Rabin’s legacy

The assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin 20 years ago has been the occasion of observances and retrospectives that honor his role in the Oslo Accords. Over the weekend, for example, Bill Clinton was in Jerusalem telling Israelis they must “finish the last chapter” of Rabin’s legacy. Among knowledgeable observers, Peter Berkowitz, Jeff Jacoby, and Caroline Glick have written columns worthy of note on the subject.

Oslo of course resulted in the return of Yasser Arafat from his Tunisian exile to rule over the Arabs on the West Bank and Gaza. I think it is fair to say that this proved to be something of a disaster. It is a remarkable fact, however, that Israel has never had a public accounting for the disaster that was Oslo.

Shimon Peres was the Israeli Foreign Minister who was awarded the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize for his involvement in the Oslo Accords. Rabin, Peres, and Yasser Arafat all shared the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize for Oslo.

I think Oslo was a profound mistake deriving (on the Israeli side) from idealism and cynicism, but you can be sure that Peres does not count it as such. Indeed, Peres reaffirmed the wisdom of Oslo in the supposed witticism I heard him utter at his 2012 Presidential Conference in Jerusalem: “In order to make peace, you have to close your eyes. You cannot make love or peace with open eyes.” I am quite sure that this is a quote that will not bear comparison with “At the summit true politics and strategy are one.”

From the perspective of Rabin and Peres, how can the Oslo Accords be deemed cynical (as I deem them)? I think that they imported Arafat to rule over the Arabs because they counted on him to do the dirty work that Israelis would not do to pacify the West Bank and Gaza.

Indeed, Rabin said so explicitly in September 1993, when he told an Israeli paper that the beauty of empowering Arafat was that Arafat could operate “bli bagatz uvli B’tselem” — Hebrew for “without the Supreme Court and without B’tselem” (i.e., the new Palestinian Authority wouldn’t be hampered by such niceties as due process of law and human-rights NGOs). Rabin and Peres had that right, but their belief that Arafat’s actions would further Israel’s interests in peaceful resolution of conflict was also — how to put it? — not very smart.

On the twentieth anniversary of the Oslo Accords, Michael Freund took a look back and called for repentance on the part of the Israeli architects of Oslo. “By all measures,” Freund wrote, “Oslo was a disaster. It divided the people and land of Israel, failed to bring peace, established a hostile Palestinian entity, weakened the Jewish state’s deterrence posture and empowered Hamas.”

Whether or not the living architects of the Oslo Accords heed Freund’s call, the Israeli public has awoken to their folly. Yet the failure of any public accounting for Oslo has left Shimon Peres free to act as a moral authority who feels he can properly call out Prime Minister Netanyahu for his supposed lack of good faith in pursuing peace with the Arabs, as he did only yesterday. Mr. Peres really ought to maintain a decent silence as Israelis struggle with the legacy of Oslo.

NOTE: I am grateful to Jeff Jacoby for supplying me the Hebrew quote from Rabin that I cite above. In an email message, Jeff added: “I think it can be argued that that very cynicism might have led Rabin to call a halt to the Oslo appeasement once it was clear how badly it was failing. He almost certainly wouldn’t have gone on to recognize Palestinian statehood or propose shared control of Jerusalem. In Rabin’s last speech in the Knesset, a few weeks before he was killed, he talked about the Oslo process and specified, among other things, that any final-status agreement would not include a Palestinian state, or a Palestinian capital in Jerusalem, or withdrawal to the 1967 lines.”