It was a day 25 years ago filled with such enormous hope, so much potential, so many dreams, as the world witnessed the signing of what came to be known as the Oslo Accords.
On the front page of the next day’s Jerusalem Post was a box of comments by various public figures, commenting about the historic signing on the White House lawn. Some of the quotes made sense then, reflecting the hope, potential and dreams we wanted so badly to be fulfilled:
“I feel like it’s November 29, 1947. We didn’t know then where we were heading, but we knew we were heading for great things.”
– communications minister Shulamit Aloni
“The signing of the accord is a courageous and necessary act. The Holy See is aware of the present and future difficulties, but it is convinced the signing of the accord signifies the opening of a path to peace.”
– Vatican chief spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls
Some were less starry eyed and more cautious:
“All the substantive issues still have to be resolved. Only the psychological barrier has been passed.”
– Henry Kissinger
“It’s a day of great exhilaration for us, but at the same time great apprehension… I’ve got a lot of questions in my mind about the ability of the Palestinians to implement the accord.”
– US House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Lee Hamilton
And then there were those who said then that it was all just a dream, with no hope and no potential:
“The signing ceremony in Washington is a day of mourning for the Jewish people, and one must tear one’s clothes for the destruction of Eretz Yisrael.”
– former chief rabbi Shlomo Goren
“The impetuous rush to embrace an enemy who uses the language of peace for the purpose of war, in the long term will be seen as an historic blunder.”
– Likud chairman Benjamin Netanyahu
For 25 years, the world has placed all its chips on the gamble that Oslo would succeed. It has not. The outlines of the agreement that day called for dual recognition, two states, and a modus operandi to move forward toward a true lasting peace. It hasn’t happened.
For 25 years, every American president – following in the footsteps of Bill Clinton, who convened that signing ceremony – has attempted to build an infrastructure of peace on top of that signing and handshake. Despite the best of intentions, all those efforts failed to resolve the conflict.
Nevertheless, it has not been a complete failure. While Oslo may not have succeeded as we had hoped and dreamed, there are successes upon which to build.
There is a Palestinian Authority that exists, which runs the daily lives of the vast majority of the Palestinians in the West Bank (Gaza is a separate problem). There is good working coordination between the security forces of the PA and the IDF, which is no small thing.
More needs to be done, and can be done. One way is to move forward on economic development, to help lower the gap between Palestinian society and Israeli society.
The original construction of the Oslo accords called for donor nations to commit large sums of money to set up an organization overseeing the new Palestinian Authority economy, called the Palestinian Economic Council for Development and Reconstruction (PECDAR). But PLO chief Yasser Arafat considered such an authoritative organization a threat to his power, so the plan for a modern, Western-style Palestinian economy built around transparent public bodies, solid financial institutions and competitive markets never got off the ground.
In the absence of a peace process, economic incentives still can and need to be addressed, perhaps in the form of industrial zones for Palestinians and Israelis.
On the political front, we seem to have run out of fresh ideas, and if the famous definition of insanity as doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results is true, then all of us – the Americans, the Israelis and the Palestinians – have some rethinking to do.
But recent reports coming out of Washington give us hope. It is clear that the present American administration is thinking outside the box, and that has to be commended. Whether the idea being floated of a confederation between Jordan and the Palestinians can get off the ground is still to be seen – it’s not even official yet. But something new, something different, has to be tried. Oslo had potential 25 years ago. It still does today.