The Oslo Process was a moral and a Jewish choice. The late Yitzhak Rabin and I went to Oslo for moral reasons: not because we had no choice, not out of weakness, but with a sense of national mission and historic conscience.
We went to implement the deep internal desire of our people not to control another people. Throughout all the years of Jewish history, we never controlled another people, and our occupation of the territories was the outcome of a security reality. At Oslo there was an historic encounter between historic expectations, necessary pragmatism and a moral choice on the Israeli side, with the new expectations and necessary pragmatism on the Palestinian side.
There is no question that the Palestinian problem is (and remains) the heart of the Middle East conflict. We will apparently know no rest until this problem is resolved by peaceful means. On the Israeli side, we knew that the Palestinians had expectations regarding the right of return, Jerusalem and the map of Israel. However, I believed then, and I still believe today, that problems can be resolved without relinquishing dreams. Not all of our dreams can be realized either.
The right of return was, in my opinion, an Arab dream that is sentenced to remain a dream. I remember that when I proposed to Yitzhak Rabin that we “go for peace with Jordan” (in contrast to the assumption then that we could reach a peace agreement with Syria first), he told me that he did not believe that King Hussein would give up on the issue of refugees and their right of return to the West Bank. I asked his consent to try and check this out with the Jordanian king. And indeed, I found that if we restored land, gave water and preserved Jordan’s status on the Temple Mount, we could make peace even without realizing the right of return to inside the State of Israel. I believe that this also holds true for the Palestinians. In Oslo, for the first time, we embarked on a daring path. We went far, without leaving reality behind.
What did we get from the Palestinians?
For the first time, a Palestinian partner was created with whom we could conduct negotiations. A partner that recognized the State of Israel’s right to exist and did not call for its destruction. This was not the Jerusalem mufti, this was not the Arafat who replaced him. They were no partners to peace, they were the leaders of a war of terror. Until Oslo, that is. In Oslo, for the first time, there was a Palestinian leader who said and promised to move from violence, to negotiations.
In the letter appended to the Oslo agreements, Arafat crossed the Rubicon and committed to move from bullets to words: The PLO recognizes the State of Israel’s right to exist in peace and security and commits to resolve problems by peaceful means, it is written.
It is worth remembering that in order to reach an agreement, one needs a partner, not just a plan. Both of these conditions were created at Oslo. For the first time, there was a Palestinian leader and a Palestinian movement that sufficed with the ’67 map (22% of the entire Land of Israel). Even if we did not like this, there was no ignoring the Palestinian viewpoint, which saw this as a compromise.
And for the first time, a Palestinian side was created that was willing to move toward peace gradually in regard to time, authority and place. In other words, five years until a final status arrangement; autonomy before statehood; Gaza and Jericho first.
Incidentally, the Oslo agreement would have never come about if I had proposed “Gaza first,” to which I added Jericho (with Yitzhak Rabin’s consent of course and with Hosni Mubarak’s support).
For the first time, the State of Israel was recognized in fact and in deed, and things began to happen on the ground: terror decreased dramatically, the start of self-rule began in Gaza and Jericho, a new mood prevailed in relations between Jews and Arabs, the peak of which was the Casablanca conference, the most impressive conference on peace and economics ever to take place in the Middle East — 1,000 political leaders and 1,000 economic leaders from all over the world and the region, including Jews and Arabs.
Thanks to Oslo, we made a peace agreement with Jordan. Israel began to flourish economically, politically and security-wise. New markets opened up and diplomatic relations were established with many Arab states such as Morocco, Tunis, Qatar, Oman and others.
To my great sorrow, Iranian involvement in the ’96 elections by means of cruel and evil terror via Hamas and Islamic Jihad led to a change of government by a margin of less than one percent.
This interference was by means of terrible bombs put on buses in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Arafat only realized the danger too late, and only then employed a strong hand against these organizations, he imprisoned their leaders, confiscated their weapons, seized their archives, and in clashes with us, around 20 men of these organizations were killed.
The fruits of these actions against terror were enjoyed by those who replaced me as prime minister.
What did the Palestinian side get?
Recognition of the Palestinian entity; a promise of getting back most of the territory; international legitimacy; gradual release of Israel’ control over their lives (a control that in any case we wanted to put an end to for moral reasons. The Jewish people have never wanted to control another people). They tasted the taste of freedom, the hope for independence, the opportunity to build their own house and to be released from the tragedy that was partly of their own doing.
They earned international support to build their own economic infrastructure.
They, like us, began to realize that a good neighbor was better than a big gun.
The results of the ’96 elections put an end to the Oslo process.
The frame was built, but the house was not completed. It was left open to the winds and to human doubt.
The Oslo Process real sin was that the agreement was not upheld. We were left stuck in the middle, with one government proposing a too-little alternative, and another government proposing too much.
The balance became lost.
What was sown in Oslo cannot be erased. It began a new chapter, a chapter of hope, a chapter of security, a chapter of good neighbors, a chapter of peace. There is no doubt that this chapter will be completed, sooner or later. No one has any other choice.
Those who deny this can rejoice for now. Those who believe must not despair, neither today nor tomorrow.
This article ran in Yediot Aharonot, September 17th, 2001