Cross-posted from Gush Shalom
Gideon Levy reminded us that the Rightist rabble-rousers, in their furious onslaught on the agreement, called the initiators "Oslo criminals" -- a conscious echo of one of Adolf Hitler's main slogans on his way to power. Nazi propaganda applied the term "November criminals" to the German statesmen who signed the 1918 armistice agreement that put an end to World War I -- by the way, at the request of the army General Staff who had lost the war.
In his book, Mein Kampf (which is about to lose its copyright, so that anyone can print it again) Hitler also revealed another insight: that a lie will be believed if it is big enough, and if it is repeated often enough.
That, too, applies to the Oslo agreement. For more than 20 years now the Israel right-wing has relentlessly repeated the lie that the Oslo agreement was not only an act of treason, but also a total failure.
Oslo is dead, we are told. It actually died at birth. And by extension, this will be the lot of every peace agreement in the future. A large part of the Israeli public has come to believe this.
THE MAIN achievement of the Oslo agreement, an act of history-changing dimensions, bears the date of September 10, 1993 -- which happened to be my 70th birthday.
On that day, the Chairman of the Palestinian Liberation Organization and the Prime Minister of the State of Israel exchanged letters of mutual recognition. Yasser Arafat recognized Israel, Yitzhak Rabin recognized the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people.
Today's younger generation (on both sides) cannot realize the huge significance of these twin acts.
From its inception almost 100 years earlier, the Zionist movement had denied the very existence of a Palestinian people. I myself have spent many hundreds of hours of my life in trying to convince Israeli audiences that a Palestinian nation really exists. Golda Meir famously declared: "There is no such thing as a Palestinian people." I am rather proud of my reply to her, in a Knesset debate: "Mrs. Prime Minister, perhaps you are right. Perhaps a Palestinian people really does not exist. But if millions of people mistakenly believe that they are a people and act like a people, they are a people!"
The Zionist denial was not an arbitrary quirk. The basic Zionist aim was to take hold of Palestine, all of it. This necessitated the displacement of the inhabitants of the country. But Zionism was an idealistic movement. Many of its East European activists were deeply imbued with the ideas of Lev Tolstoy and other utopian moralists. They could not face the fact that their utopia could only be realized on the ruins of another people. Therefore the denial was an absolute moral necessity.
Recognizing the existence of the Palestinian people was, therefore, a revolutionary act.
ON THE other side, recognition was even harder.
From the first day of the conflict, practically all Palestinians, and indeed almost all Arabs, looked upon the Zionists as an invading tribe that was out to rob them of their homeland, drive them out and build a robber-state on their ruins. The aim of the Palestinian national movement was therefore to demolish the Zionist state and throw the Jews into the sea, as their forefathers had thrown the last of the Crusaders quite literally from the quay of Acre.
And here came their revered leader, Yasser Arafat, and recognized the legality of Israel, reversing the ideology of 100 years of struggle, in which the Palestinian people had lost most of their country and most of their homesteads.
In the Oslo agreement, signed three days later on the White House lawn, Arafat did something else, which has been completely ignored in Israel: he gave up 78% of historical Palestine. The man who actually signed the agreement was Mahmoud Abbas. I wonder if his hand shook when he signed this momentous concession, minutes before Rabin and Arafat shook hands.
Oslo did not die. In spite of the glaring faults of the agreement ("the best possible agreement in the worst possible situation," as Arafat put it), it changed the nature of the conflict, though it did not change the conflict itself. The Palestinian Authority, the basic structure of the Palestinian State-in-the-Making, is a reality. Palestine is recognized by most countries and, at least partly, by the UN. The Two-State Solution, once the idea of a crazy fringe group, is today a world consensus. A quiet but real cooperation between Israel and Palestine is going on in many fields.