Reprinted from The Jerusalem Post of August 28, 1998
There were celebrations in Oslo this week to mark the initiating of the agreement between Israel and the PLO five years ago, but there is no cause for celebration here. Oslo was an agreement born in sin. Although bearing on Israel's future, its very existence, it was negotiated in secret, by unofficial representatives of Israel, without the knowledge of the Israeli government, and possibly even without the full knowledge of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin.
For Israel, it represented a complete reversal of previous government policies, and for the Labor Party, a retreat from positions represented to the electorate during the 1992 election campaign. There is little doubt that had Labor advocated negotiations with the PLO during the campaign, it would not have won those elections. In terms of Israel's interests, the agreement was basically flawed and represents an error of historic proportions.
For years Israeli governments - Labor, Likud, and national unity - had maintained a policy of not negotiating with the PLO. The unity government headed by Yitzhak Shamir, with the support of Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres, who held key portfolios, called for negotiations with elected representatives of the Palestinian population in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza in its peace initiative of May 1989.
It was clear to all that negotiating with the PLO, an organization that insisted that it represented not only the Palestinians of Judea, Samaria, and Gaza, but also millions of Palestinians in what they refer to as the "Palestinian diaspora," for whom they claim the "right to return" to homes abandoned in 1948, would imply a readiness to negotiate this issue of potentially destructive consequences to the State of Israel.
Israel stuck to its position in its negotiations leading up to the Madrid Conference, and that conference was convened based on the consent of all the leading participants that Israel would not negotiate with the PLO, but rather with Palestinian representatives from Judea, Samaria, and Gaza. After the Madrid Conference, Israeli representatives conducted negotiations in Washington with such a Palestinian delegation.
It was behind the backs of the negotiators in Washington that the ill-fated talks in Oslo were secretly begun. For obvious reasons, Yasser Arafat has not as yet pushed the "right of return" to the forefront of the current negotiations on the staged redeployment of the IDF in Judea and Samaria, but it is lying in wait to haunt Israel in the final status negotiations.
IT IS an indication of the inexperience and foolhardiness of the unofficial Israeli negotiators at Oslo that they did not realize what was surely obvious to Arafat, that agreeing to staged withdrawals from most of Judea and Samaria before the final status negotiations began was going to place Israel in a most disadvantageous position in these negotiations. Our bargaining chips were given away before the crucial negotiations were to begin, while Arafat was given the message that Israel was reconciled to withdrawing to the lines that existed before the Six Day War.
Two additional serious errors were committed: First, the traditional Israeli position on Jerusalem was abandoned. Menachem Begin had threatened to leave Camp David when the subject of Jerusalem was raised. All leading Israeli politicians, including Rabin and Peres, had repeatedly pledged that the status of Israel's capital would not be a subject of negotiations. At Oslo this position, of cardinal importance to Israel and the Jewish people, was swept into the dustbin of history. Israel explicitly consented to Jerusalem being placed on the agenda of the final status negotiations.
Second, the agreement to turn the small town of Jericho and its surroundings over to Palestinian control violated the wide ranging and long standing Israeli consensus that the Jordan Valley and the Judean Desert must constitute Israel's security border. A hole, a few miles wide, was punched into that border at Oslo.
Rabin and Peres preferred to ignore the fact that the plan for resolving any aspect of the Arab-Jewish conflict must have the support of the majority of Israel's Jewish population if it is going to be sustainable. The Oslo Accords did not have that support, as became clear to one and all when Binyamin Netanyahu beat Peres in the 1996 elections.
Although these elections returned to power a coalition of parties, led by the Likud, that had strongly objected to the Oslo Accords, much of the damage had already been done. Netanyahu was left with the unpleasant job of damage control. One might add that it is not at all clear that the Oslo Accords were of great benefit to the Palestinian population in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza. They foisted upon them Yasser Arafat and his retinue from Tunis, a group not known for its adherence to the principles of democracy, the rule of law, or clean government.
Moshe Arens is a former defense minister. (c) 1998 The Jerusalem Post