September 13, 2018 marks the 25th anniversary of the first of two Oslo Accords, which the late Charles Krauthammer referred to as “one of the great miscalculations in diplomatic history.”
Prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat signed the initial 1993 accord on the White House lawn. A second accord followed in 1995. In exchange for Arafat’s signed pledge to renounce terrorism and other violence, remove the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Covenant statement denying Israel’s right to exist, and to work toward a two-state settlement, Israel would withdraw from areas with dense Palestinian population and allow a Palestinian Authority to govern 95% of its population.
Oslo represented an act of appeasement by the Jewish state. Sick of war and hungry for peace, Israeli leaders deluded themselves into believing that PLO chairman Arafat had accepted Israel’s existence.
Israel fell for a grand deception. The Palestinians never changed their covenant, continued their terrorist activities, established a kleptocracy and, at Camp David in 2000, rejected a magnanimous Israeli two-state peace plan – an act that President Clinton called a “colossal mistake.” Arafat began a war of terror that killed more than 1,100 Israelis (78% civilians) and wounded 8,000. In 2008, Arafat’s successor, Mahmoud Abbas, refused an offer that was even more generous.
More than a decade after Oslo, Israelis gradually concluded that you can’t make peace with an enemy determined to replace you with a 22nd Arab state. They realized that Oslo was part of the PLO’s “phased plan” to establish political control over territory Israel gave them and use that base to continue the “armed struggle” until it had “liberated” all of Israel from the Jews.
Oslo exacted a painful price, effectively allowing the PLO to transform Judea, Samaria and Gaza into terrorist hotbeds. The PLO achieved international credibility. They created a propaganda machine to defame and delegitimize Israel, added “occupied Palestine” to the world’s lexicon and won the support of the Left. The PLO radicalized the Palestinians and Israel’s Arab minority, openly glorifying brutality and terrorism with religious zeal.
Palestinian culture views Israeli compromises, peace offers and “painful concessions” as signs of weakness and vulnerability. Oslo made a bad situation worse, strengthening the Palestinians’ resolve to vanquish the Jewish state.
ACCORDING TO historian and Middle East Forum president Daniel Pipes, history tells us that the path to peace with the Palestinians is not “through goodwill, conciliation, mediation... and compromise.” Victory is achieved “when the enemy loses its will to fight.”
President Trump’s predecessors rewarded the Palestinians for bad behavior and inadvertently fueled their will to fight on. Trump has warned the Palestinians that the US will no longer acquiesce to Palestinian intransigence and that violence will cost them dearly. He is methodically discarding Palestinian demands that pose unique obstacles to peace – the right of return and status of Jerusalem – which Oslo never addressed.
Former Israeli ambassador to the US Michael Oren observed, “Each time they refused to negotiate in the past, the Palestinians were rewarded... But now the US will punish them.”
Pipes suggests that Washington, working with Jerusalem, should convince the Palestinians of the futility of their rejectionism. He outlines steps to destroy their will to fight and promote a genuine acceptance of Israel. Trump seems to be implementing some of Pipes’s recommendations. He recognized Israel’s capital as Jerusalem in December and transferred the US Embassy there in May.
His administration rejects the Palestinian claim to the right of return to Israel of the five million descendants of the original Palestinian refugees, withholding its $400 million funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA), with the goal of shuttering that anti-Israel organization that supports Palestinian irredentism and terrorism.
President Trump previously signed the Taylor Force Act, freezing budgetary aid to the PA until it halts its program to pay for terrorism against Israelis, and recently announced a cut of more than $200 million in aid to the Palestinians.
The Saudis are also applying pressure on the Palestinians. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman suggested that the Palestinians accept Trump’s “proposals” or “shut up.”
It’s highly unlikely that President Trump will unveil a peace deal during his September 25 UN speech. Most likely, he’ll discuss overarching principles within the context of US Middle East policy.
Trump is playing hardball. So far he hasn’t fallen into the Oslo trap. He’s attempting to demoralize the Palestinians to destroy their will to fight a lost war. This will take much more time and effort, continued pressure by the US and Israel, and new Palestinian leadership.
The author is a fellow with the Haym Salomon Center. She has a Master of Arts degree in public law and government from Columbia University and an A.B. in political science from Vassar College.