Here in Israel, the annual Jerusalem Conference was an often-riveting discussion of every major issue – and controversy – in Jewish life today. Sponsored by “Besheva” and “Arutz-7,” the sessions attracted many hundreds of Jews, mostly but not all situated on the right-wing of the political and religious spectrum, and voices from all sides of each issue were heard. There was the typical Israeli audience “participation,” i.e., the occasional heckling, catcalls and shouted questions, all to let the speakers know that the audience was listening. The first session was an historical retrospective with the most current applicability: “Twenty Years Since Oslo: Success or Failure?”
One might reasonably conclude that a diplomatic process that resulted in 1500 homicides of innocent Jews, thousands more wounded and maimed, the abandonment of significant parts of the homeland, the arming of one’s enemy and the resuscitation of Yasser Arafat as a respectable figure on the world stage, the proclamation by a government of Jews for the first time in history that the land of Israel does not only belong to the Jewish people, the increased vulnerability it spawned among the Israeli populace and the whetted appetite of the Arabs for more concessions – a ravenous, insatiable hunger that will not be satisfied by anything less than full surrender – the ruptures in Israeli society yet to be healed, etc. was indeed a failure, one of the greatest blunders in history.
In fact, Uzi Dayan, former head of Israel’s National Security Council and a leading strategic thinker, prefaced the session with the statement that “of course, it was a failure, by every yardstick. We can even bypass this whole session.”
Not so fast. One of the speakers was the original architect of the Oslo Process, Professor Ron Pundak, who willfully violated then-Israeli law by negotiating with the PLO and came to the infamous agreement after months of negotiations. He is, to say the least, sincere and unrepentant, terming the Oslo Process good for Israel, and “one of the most Zionist acts in the history of the state.” What was fascinating about Pundak’s presentation was not only seeing and hearing it live but witnessing a complete disconnect between theory and reality, between the dream and the nightmare. He even ignored the obvious question: “was it worth 1500 deaths?”, just choosing not to answer.
He spoke passionately about the demographic demon that had underwritten Israeli leftish diplomacy for decades, notwithstanding that the dire findings have long been discredited. (The Israeli birth rate has exceeded the Arab birth rate for years.) He noted with pride the international acclaim that Israel garnered as a result of these withdrawals, without acknowledgment that said acclaim was a fleeting phenomenon. He was outspoken about the security benefits that accrued to Israel as a result of not having to patrol areas where there is an Arab majority, hardly a comforting eulogy to the victims of Oslo, victims only because of the military and territorial empowerment of the Arab population. If was as if the last twenty years had not happened – and the promises and vision of the Oslo-ites had never been proclaimed with such fanfare; as if none of its proponents – Rabin, Peres, et al – had ever promised the nation that if the process resulted in violence, Israel would just go back in and re-conquer the territories. Uh huh…
As former YESHA Council head Dani Dayan said, it is hard even to debate someone who lives in a world with such “dangerous illusions.” There can be no common ground when one side sees down as up, left as right, defeat as victory, and death as life. Indeed. He was quite concise: “If one said: ‘I have a great idea. Let’s bring Arafat to a place five minutes from Jerusalem, give him weapons and a government…’ It is hard to imagine that intelligent people actually believed that.”
Pundak even saw fit to share a dream that he had the night before the conference. He saw himself guiding PM Netanyahu through the “Palestinian territories” and protecting him. (Why anyone would need “protection” from lovers of peace is actually a mystery, but what a weird, even unsettling dream? And what a nightmare for those people forced to live in the real world!)
Of course, Oslo would be an historical aberration, a candidate for entry into a revised and updated edition of the Encyclopedia Idiotica (a compendium of history’s worst mistakes, a book I happen to own), but for the incredible fact that an Oslo III is now being planned, this time shoved down the throats of an unwilling Israeli government by the Obama administration in collusion with Israeli and international leftists. The exact same arguments heard pre-Oslo are being proffered again: there is a small window for peace; you make peace with your enemies, not your friends; the occupation is corrupting Israeli society; the world will turn on Israel with a vengeance unless the Arabs are appeased; etc. Some are even calling again for another unilateral expulsion of Jews, just to “do something,” show good faith to the Arab enemy (who is never asked for any act of good faith). Open threats are made of violence, war, terror, boycotts, sanctions, penalties and economic divestment from Israel, unless Israel divests itself of its land and its divine legacy.
Pundak put it best to the audience: “the question is do you prefer the Bible and the land of Israel or…” He never got to finish the question, because the audience pre-empted him with shouts of “yes, yes!” To him, Oslo was a success because it weakened the settlement movement, and peace in Israel will be the anchor of stability in the entire region. Tell that to the Syrians. And the Egyptians. And the Libyans. And the Iraqis. And…
Such experts are dedicated, to be sure, but dangerously certain of their own brilliance and blissfully oblivious to the real-world consequences of that brilliance. They are dangerously naïve. Pundak even termed Mahmoud Abbas – the “Palestinian” president whose termed ended five years ago, whose doctorate was a scholarly study of the hoax of the Holocaust, and who spent decades as Arafat’s top advisor – “one of the most honest [yashar was the word he used] men in the entire world.” The strongest argument that he (and another speaker) raised in support of more concessions was the odd declaration that “Ben-Gurion would have done it.” To encourage a surrender today by relying on the statecraft of someone who died forty years ago – even asserting that we have the possibility now of implementing the findings of the (1937) Peel Commission (!) – evinces a breathtaking cluelessness that only someone living in an ivory tower could actually espouse.
The world has no shortage of people who create their own realities. Some live in institutions, few achieve positions of power and influence, and fewer still retain those positions when their fantasies blow up (literally) in the faces of real people. There is something peculiar about Israeli society and its reluctance – its almost obsessive reluctance – to hold the architects of the Oslo failure politically accountable. Indeed, one of its primary proponents serves as president today.
This is not new; Golda Meir was re-elected after the Yom Kippur War debacle. She, at least, had the dignity to resign a few months later after the Agranat Commission findings were published, holding her accountable. The question is: why didn’t the people hold her accountable? Are Israelis so locked into support for a party – any party - that issues don’t really matter? Are they so easily manipulated by false narratives and a worrisome familiarity with, if not almost an expectation of, unending grief? And, it almost goes without saying that a Commission of Inquiry to investigate the Oslo debacle was never seriously considered, and certainly never convened. Perhaps it was politically unpalatable, even to the secular right; perhaps because the media were the driving force behind Oslo – and behind the prior Commissions of Inquiry – and they had little interest in exposing their own foolishness; perhaps because the Rabin assassination provided protective cover to the failures of Oslo.
Whatever the reason, the unwillingness to fully investigate the fiasco has left too many Israelis forgetful and hopeful – forgetful of what the past concessions have brought and hopeful that a new retreat will engender different results than the old retreats.
Who says Jews are people of little faith?
May Hashem bless Israel’s leaders with strength, a backbone, courage and faith, and keep a watchful and vigilant eye over His people who, like innocent children, indulge in wishful thinking that has too often crashed into an unkind reality. Fortunately, the Jerusalem Conference attracted from Israeli society the best and the brightest, the clear-eyed thinkers and the Jews of real faith.