As Israel marked 18 years since the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin this week, various public speakers resumed talking about the Oslo Accords, but they were actually talking about the current peace talks with the Palestinians.
Commentators were quick to argue this week that despite the many years that have gone by, the Israeli people have never truly reconciled since the traumatic incident. The drama is of a low priority. The north and south in the U.S. also never forgave each other for the civil war or the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, and still, the U.S. turned out well. So Israel has managed to remain united despite the extremists, who recklessly tried to split the nation in the same way the Jewish people lost their sanity in 920 B.C.E. and divided the kingdom.
The extreme Right has adopted an unforgivable terminology that labels the members of the government in 1993 as "Oslo criminals." Nonsense. Criminals are people who intend to do bad things. They are people whose hearts are filled with malice. Who wanted Oslo? Yitzhak Rabin, who, when he signed the agreement with then-PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat, looked as though he was doing it against his will? Yitzhak Rabin who, until his dying day, insisted that the Jordan River would mark Israel's secure border? At most, one could argue that the initiators of the Oslo Accords got it all wrong. That is saying a lot.
The Oslo Accords were a decent agreement, certainly for anyone who supports the idea of "two states for two peoples" and fears the rise of a sovereign binational entity between the sea and the Jordan River. It wasn't the content of the accords that was problematic, it was the people signing it. Rabin meant it, and Arafat didn't. If, instead of Arafat, the leader of the Palestinians had been Anwar Sadat or even Hafez Assad, perhaps every Israeli, besides those who insist on the unity of Greater Israel, would view Oslo as a positive milestone on the road to normal relations with the Arab world.
Even now, 20 years later, the trauma of Oslo is still hovering above the region. Our faith in the Palestinians is gone, not because the extremists among them stepped up terror efforts, but because Arafat reneged on his commitment and didn't combat the terror. But Israel has been cornered into a situation where it constantly has to prove that it seeks peace. It was this burden that always guided Israel's prime ministers: Benjamin Netanyahu when he signed the Hebron Protocol and later the Wye River Memorandum, Ehud Barak at Camp David and Ehud Olmert in Jerusalem, always.
Since the West keeps putting Israel on the defendants' bench -- a longtime tradition in Christianity -- Israel has no choice but to keep proving that it truly wants a peace agreement. The argument that this proof has already been presented countless times doesn't seem to be effective. The process is labor-intensive, constant, and doesn't bear fruit for long. Now, it is weighing down on Netanyahu.
Despite the fact that the Americans insist that there is no correlation between the Palestinian issue and the need to stop Iran's nuclear program, in practice, the West is pressing Netanyahu on both fronts. The West is angry with Netanyahu, even though it knows that the Israeli prime minister is presenting the most accurate picture on the Iranian issue; and it is even angrier with Netanyahu about the Palestinian issue, assuming that Netanyahu doesn't really mean what he says.
Last week I heard legal authority Professor Amnon Rubinstein discuss an interesting aspect of the Israeli position. Sadly, he argued, it was a mistake to demand recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. But now that such a demand has been made, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has vehemently rejected this obvious request, the Palestinian position is burdensome and irritating and raises questions.
The demand for recognition as a Jewish state cannot be undone. But if Israel refuses to enter a simultaneous discussion over the issue of borders, it will find itself facing Arab nations who, in a twist of logic, will claim that we are preventing them from dealing with the ayatollahs. It wouldn't be true, but such a diplomatic reality will emerge, and there will be many on the Israeli Left who will support such a view.
In the three months that have passed since the renewal of talks with the Palestinians, the actual negotiations have been rather sparse. Each side claims that no progress has been made. Is this the final moment before a breakthrough? The final stage of stubbornness before a compromise is reached? Or, alternately, could this just be reality? A dead end?
Israel needs flexibility, and Israeli negotiators Tzipi Livni and Yitzhak Molcho need time. We can learn from the Iranians. They presented the West with a fake plan, and then fueled the system with prattle. A clever maneuver like that doesn't have to be in Farsi. It can be done with the Palestinians.