Twenty-five years ago, the world watched as Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin shook hands with Palestinian leader and arch-terrorist Yasser Arafat on the White House lawn. The Oslo process, launched with the September 13, 1993 signing of the Declaration of Principles as President Clinton looked on, was supposed to lead to genuine peace between Israel and the Palestinians. It never happened because Oslo was based on a delusion, a false belief by many Israelis that they had a partner for peace.
The truth was readily evident. On the evening of the White House ceremony, Arafat broadcast a speech on Jordanian television assuring Palestinians, and the Arab world more broadly, that they should understand Oslo in terms of the Palestine National Council’s 1974 decision. This was a reference to the so-called “plan of phases,” according to which the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) would acquire whatever territory it could by negotiations, then use that land as a base for pursuing Israel’s annihilation.
Why did Oslo’s supporters deny the truth? The Arab siege of Israel had been underway for nearly half a century, since the Jewish State’s founding. Invariably under conditions of such chronic besiegement – whether involving minorities marginalized and victimized by the surrounding majority or small states whose neighbors seek their destruction – elements of the population under assault will shun reality. They will fool themselves into believing that sufficient self-reform and concessions will win relief. They do so out of desperate longing for respite and despite typically overwhelming evidence in the rhetoric and actions of their attackers that the besieged are merely indulging in wishful thinking.
The traditional position of left-leaning Israeli parties had been that Israel needed to await a peace partner who would renounce terror and recognize Israel’s right to exist. But in the years preceding Oslo, this reasonable stance had eroded in the face of the unrelenting siege and the Left’s alienation from governments in which, since 1977, the right-leaning Likud had largely dominated. Growing numbers on the Israeli Left – including an overwhelming majority within the nation’s academic, cultural and media elites – concluded the major impediment to peace was the Israeli Right and its unwillingness to make necessary concessions. The Labor Party’s victory in the 1992 election gave the Left the opportunity to act on its delusion.
In the wake of Oslo’s launching, Arafat and those around him continued to declare their goal was Israel’s annihilation and used their newly acquired control over Palestinian media, mosques and schools to promote this agenda. Accompanying the stepped-up incitement was an increase in terror, which the Israeli government insisted was the work of Hamas and other Islamist factions, supposedly unconnected to Arafat, but which he repeatedly praised and – as the Israelis knew – was deeply involved in propagating.