But, of course, all this is far from the reality of peace which many of us, including Ron Pundak, envisioned on that happily optimistic day, September 13, 1993. Just over 20 years later, the flames of conflict are blazing, and most people don't dare to even utter the word "peace," as if it were a pornographic abomination.
WHAT WENT wrong? Many Palestinians believe that Arafat's historic concessions were premature, that he should not have made them before Israel had recognized the State of Palestine as the final aim.
Rabin changed his whole world-view at the age of 71 and took a historic decision, but he was not the man to follow through. He hesitated, wavered, and famously declared "there are no sacred dates."
This slogan became the umbrella for breaking our obligations. The final agreement should have been signed in 1999. Long before that, four "safe passages" should have been opened between the West Bank and Gaza. By violating this obligation, Israel laid the foundation for the breakaway of Gaza.
Israel also violated the obligation to implement the "third stage" of the withdrawal from the West Bank. "Area C" has now become practically a part of Israel, waiting for official annexation, which is demanded by right-wing parties.
There was no obligation under Oslo to release prisoners. But wisdom dictated it. The return of 10,000 prisoners would have electrified the atmosphere. Instead, successive Israeli governments, both left and right, built settlements on Arab land at a frantic pace and took more prisoners.
The initial violations of the agreement and the dysfunctionality of the entire process encouraged the extremists on both sides. The Israeli extremists assassinated Rabin, and the Palestinian extremists started a campaign of murderous attacks.
LAST WEEK I commented on our government's habit of abstaining from fulfilling signed obligations, whenever it thought that the national interest demanded it.
As a soldier in the 1948 war, I took part in the great offensive to open the way to the Negev, which had been cut off by the Egyptian army. This was done in violation of the cease-fire arranged by the UN. We used a simple ruse for putting the blame on the enemy.
The same technique was later used by Ariel Sharon to break the armistice on the Syrian front and provoke incidents there, in order to annex the so-called "demilitarized zones." Still later, the memory of these incidents was used to annex the Golan Heights.
The start of Lebanon War I was a direct violation of the cease-fire arranged a year earlier by American diplomats. The pretext was flimsy as usual: an anti-PLO terrorist outfit had tried to assassinate the Israeli ambassador in London. When Prime Minister Menachem Begin was told by his Mossad chief that the assassins were enemies of the PLO, Begin famously answered: "For me, they are all PLO!"
As a matter of fact, Arafat had kept the cease-fire meticulously. Since he wanted to avoid an Israeli invasion, he had imposed his authority even on the opposition elements. For 11 months, not a single bullet was fired on that border. Yet when I spoke a few days ago with a former senior security official, he assured me seriously that "they shot at us every day. It was intolerable."
After six days of war, a cease-fire was agreed. However, at that time our troops had not yet succeeded in surrounding Beirut. So Sharon broke the cease-fire to cut the vital Beirut-Damascus highway.
The present crisis in the "peace process" was caused by the Israeli government's breaking its agreement to release Palestinian prisoners on a certain day. This violation was so blatant that it could not be hidden or explained away. It caused the famous "poof" of John Kerry.
In fact, Binyamin Netanyahu just did not dare to fulfill his obligation after he and his acolytes in the media had for weeks incited the public against the release of "murderers" with "blood on their hands." Even on the so-called "center-left," voices were mute.
Now another mendacious narrative is taking shape before our eyes. The large majority in Israel is already totally convinced that the Palestinians had brought about the crisis by joining 15 international conventions. After this flagrant violation of the agreement, the Israeli government was right in its refusal to release the prisoners. The media have repeated this falsification of the course of events so often, that it has by now acquired the status of fact.