Seething with anger at the Oslo architects - "Indict the Oslo criminals" is a code phrase for a wide range of demands.

Ha'aretz 9 December 2001


By Nadav Shragai

Fifteen months after what some believe is the collapse of the Oslo process, "Indict the Oslo criminals" is a code phrase for a wide range of demands. On July 25 in the Rose Garden opposite the Knesset there was a somewhat embarrassing event organized by a group calling itself "Soul Searching," a non-partisan group of reserve officers, students and citizens who for months demanded a state judicial commission of inquiry be established to investigate the Oslo agreement.

With little media coverage, the leaders of the group declared an end to their hunger strike, which had gone on seven weeks without any press coverage or political echo. Micha Maimon, a major in reserves, who hoped to become the Moti Ashkenazi of the "Oslo War," which is how the right refers to the intifada, dismantled the tent and went home.

The "Soul Searching" group assumed the media's indifference was part and parcel of the media's own fear of a state judicial inquiry that would expose the press's role in encouraging the Oslo process and didn't expose the dangers that the Oslo architects were taking on. In those days, in any case, Maimon and his associates avoided the phrase "indict the Oslo criminals," focusing their demands on establishing the commission of inquiry.

But three weeks later a suicide bomber blew himself up in the Sbarro restaurant, and since then there hasn't been a right wing demonstration that doesn't include posters saying "Indict the Oslo criminals. On the 30th day after Rehavam Ze'evi's assassination at the Hyatt Hotel in Jerusalem, at a conference there, hundreds of attendees wore lapel buttons saying "Indict the Oslo criminals" and bearing the pictures of Shimon Peres and Arafat, just to make sure it's understood who those criminals are.

The demand has also appeared in dozens of articles written in recent months by right-wing commentators and is proliferating as a bumper sticker. More people, it should be noted, would make do with the demand of Maimon's "Soul Searching" group, which wants a commission of inquiry, while there are those who think it would be enough if Oslo's architects simply withdrew from public life.

Fifteen months after what some believe is the collapse of the Oslo process, "Indict the Oslo criminals" is a code phrase for a wide range of demands. Their common denominator is profound anger at the architects of the agreement, not only for the agreement itself but also for what the right regards as a lack of remorse on the part of those who shepherded the agreement from the start.

The issue raises a series of questions, like whether to take the demand at face value, meaning putting previously elected officials on trial, or whether elected officials can be put on trial for legitimate activity in a democracy, or, indeed, how widespread is the demand.

Nadia Matar of Women in Green was probably the first to coin the phrase and she seems to be the one who wants to carry it to its logical extreme. She believes some of the people in what she calls the leftist government who have given the Palestine Liberation Organization weapons, knew in advance that there was a strong possibility that those weapons would be aimed at Jews, but those politicians not only ignored that possibility, they wanted it to happen.

"The Beilins," she says, "wanted the see those weapons aimed at us, the settlers, to make us run away from here and thus end the settlement industry in Judea and Samaria." According to Matar, "if that wasn't their intention, by now we would have seen them expressing remorse and confessing to their mistakes. Even Chamberlain retracted and expressed remorse.

"The fact that Peres and Beilin continue to support the Oslo Accords is proof, as far as I'm concerned, that giving the enemy weapons was the goal. I'm saying something very grave but I'm sticking to it," says Matar. It's doubtful that most of her colleagues in Women in Green agree with Matar's proposition about the premeditated intentions for giving the Palestinians weapons. "In any case," adds Matar, "we have no argument about the fact that there was criminal negligence." Matar, and maybe Moshe Leshem, who heads "Gamla Won't Fall Again," another right-wing protest movement, are possibly the only ones who actually want to see Peres and Beilin put on trial tomorrow.

Elyakim Haetzni, considered the angry prophet of the ex-parliamentary right, is in favor of retroactive legislation with which "it will be possible to put the peace criminals on trial." He speaks about a full-scale war now in the offing, "the real Oslo war," as he refers to it. Yasser Arafat will set it off, he says, "and the weapons were given to him by the Jewish Oslo criminals. Someone there invented a weapon of destruction with a nice fragrance - peace. In the name of peace they have brought a catastrophe. If, heaven forbid, we reach the final payment of the Oslo criminals, and I pray we don't, then after the great Oslo war, I expect the idea will come up for a law that would enable the trials of these people. There are some precedents for such retroactive legislation - the Nuremburg trials, for example, not that I'm making any comparison."

Haetzni says Oslo's political proponents committed a serious crime of negligence but "in history there is no precedent for a statesman being put on trial for negligence. Some have been tried for treason, but nobody claims Oslo is treason, in the legal meaning of the term. There's medical negligence, and lawyers can be negligent, and I think that in the wake of Oslo, the legislature should consider political negligence." He says that "the negligence was ignoring the danger, and it was gross negligence, like a driver plowing a car into pedestrians, even though he had no intention to kill any specific person."

Much more popular in the right is the call for a commission of inquiry, whether as a goal unto itself or to determine if the Oslo proponents should be tried. Rabbi Ya'acov Madan, a resident of Alon Shvut, has spent some of the last two years with political opponents from the left trying to work out a formula for a secular-religious social contract. He favors a commission of inquiry, "since it's impossible to go directly to trial." He went on a hunger strike eight years ago in the center of Jerusalem calling "don't give them rifles." Seventy-one MKs signed his petition, but Yitzhak Rabin ignored them. Among other things, he wants a commission of inquiry "to investigate whether foreign elements influenced those involved in Oslo, by financing to groups or individuals."

Dr. Ron Breiman, head of Professors for a Strong Israel, a right-wing academic group, also is in favor of a commission of inquiry and foresees the inquiry leading to indictments. "There were enough people in the Knesset, public life and even in Ha'aretz, who shouted and warned that Oslo was wrong," he says. "If a commission of inquiry could ban Ariel Sharon from serving as defense minister, I naturally expect that one should ban Peres and Beilin from ever serving as ministers ... There's a commission investigating whey 13 Arabs were killed in October 2000, and even one for the 22 Jews killed in the Versailles wedding hall disaster, so why shouldn't there be one for Oslo, that led to hundreds of Jews being killed?"

According to Aryeh Stav, head of the Ariel Institute for Strategic Studies, and editor of Nativ, an academic journal, "in a properly run state, these people would be put on trial," but "since Israel is not properly run," there won't be a trial. "The rules of the game developed in Israel are pathological," he says. "All the prime ministers broke the law regarding the Golan. According to the law against treason, they should have been thrown into jail for life or executed. A gang like Peace Now would be considered traitors in a properly run country, but there's no point in putting them on trial because they do express the views of the majority."

Oslo, adds Stav, "was inherently illegal. It's the closest thing to a junta. The law defines the PLO as a terror organization and says anyone who engages in negotiations with it should get 15 years in jail. That law is still on the books, but everyone is silent."

Stav's use of the term "treason" is relatively unique, but there is a debate in the right about the term criminal." Haetzni says "those who made Oslo are criminals, in the public sense of the term, even if not in the technical sense."

Uri Elitzur, former head of Benjamin Netanyahu's bureau when Netanyahu was prime minister, and now editor of the settlement movement's magazine, Nekuda, is opposed to the term criminals when discussing a controversial political issue. So, he uses the term "unforgivable negligence" to describe Oslo saying it was "an experiment that was practically guaranteed to fail." But he is opposed in principle to trials or commissions of inquiry when it comes to politicians. "Let those who believed they were acting in the best interests of the state of Israel go on trial in the ballot box, not the courts," says Elitzur.

"Anti-democratic language"

Dr. Arye Carmon, head of the Israel Democracy Institute says "Indict theOslo criminals" is an illegitimate call in a democracy because it delegitimizes not only a party or political group that believes in Oslo, but government decisions. "I'm not arguing with the opinion," he says, "but using such language is, in my view, anti-democratic, and on the verge of incitement."

Carmon distinguishes between those who want to see the Oslo architects put on trial and those who call for a commission of inquiry. "I'm not comfortable with commissions of inquiry but they are part of the public discourse in our society. I don't see any symmetry between past commissions and the commission being demanded for Oslo, but it's a legitimate demand."

Beilin: 'Oslo didn't fail, Netanyahu foiled it'

"I won't get into an argument over 'Indict the Oslo criminals,' because I don't argue with crazy people," says Yossi Beilin, the original Oslo architect. "But, the point is that the real culprit for what has happened is Benjamin Netanyahu. He's the one who ideologically reached the conclusion that Oslo was a bad mistake, but he lied to the public in 1996 by saying he supported Oslo so that he'd be elected. It was one of the great deceptions of the past years.

"He got into office claiming he supported Oslo and then did everything he could to prevent it." Beilin says "what's happened in the last few years, including the intifada, is that official Israel crudely violated an international agreement that it signed, and created alienation and hatred on the Palestinians side, which once believed that it was possible to reach peace with us. That doesn't mean the Palestinians are a bunch of saints. On our side there were undoubtedly violations of the agreement, some of which more serious than others, but none on the scale of Netanyahu. Those people who are responsible for Oslo not being implemented are the same ones who claim that we didn't violate the agreement, but that signing it was the reason for the violence."

As for the weapons used against Jews, Beilin points to the phrase "a strong police force" in the original Camp David Accords signed by Menachem Begin."I don't think Begin is to blame. He was right, and today, too, if there's an agreement between the right-wing government headed by Sharon and the Palestinian Authority, that last thing that Sharon would want to do is take the weapons away from the PA to prevent it from enforcing the agreement."

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