Twenty-five years ago, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO chief Yasser Arafat stood in front of Bill Clinton in the White House Rose Garden and shook hands to mark their signing of the Oslo Accords. This pact included handing part of Judea and Samaria to the control of Palestinian Arabs. A year later the Palestinian Authority was created as the controlling authority that still governs part of the so-called West Bank. These changes were celebrated as a major step toward furthering the “peace process” whose aim was to create national “self-determination” for the Palestinian Arabs, and eventually the fabled “two nations living side-by-side in peace.”
A quarter of a century later, the peace process is dead, and peace between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs is farther away than ever. The Oslo Accord became the Oslo War, as Middle East historian Efraim Karsh calls it. Rather than peace, the lasting legacy of the Oslo Accords will be another reminder of the serial failures of idealistic internationalism.
That Oslo was a wish-fulfilling folly became obvious soon after the photogenic handshake in the Rose Garden. Terror attacks between 1994-1999 totaled 215, roughly equal to the pre-Oslo number in the early 90s. Terrorism continued to escalate in subsequent years. In 2000––a mere month after Arafat turned down Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s offer of everything the Palestinian Arabs claimed they wanted except for the suicidal “right of return” –– Arafat launched the so-called Second Intifada, which in five years murdered over a thousand Israelis. The killing didn’t start to abate until Israel walled off Judea and Samaria from Israeli territory.
Still unschooled in the dangers of relying on “parchment barriers” like Oslo, and facing intense international opprobrium and pressure to cede “land for peace,” in 2005 Israel evacuated 8,500 Jews from the Gaza Strip. The territory fell into the hands of Hamas, a terrorist gang whose genocidal intent is still encoded in its founding charter. What followed was not peace, but a continuing series of terrorist attacks, kidnappings, incursions, and nearly 20,000 rockets and mortars fired into Israeli territory. Hamas today has made no more progress than has the PA toward creating the political and economic infrastructure necessary for a viable, independent nation.
The failures of Oslo reflect the same false assumptions of idealistic internationalism or the “rules based international order.” The most glaring is the unexamined belief that technological progress and material improvement everywhere trumps the older, deeply engrained cultural, traditional, and religious beliefs and practices that for most of human history have defined collective identity. This arrogant projection of culturally contingent ideals onto the whole planet enables the failure of imagination to see the alternative or often conflicting beliefs and aims of those who are different from us. As a result, diplomatic engagement and transnational institutions take at face value the duplicitous participation of other nations and peoples in treaties, summits, conferences, and accords. Such agreements reflect not the “meeting of the minds” necessary for a sincere agreement reflecting common aims and shared values, but the national interests and goals of the participants that often contradict the values and principles supposedly underlying the agreement.
Like the failure of the League of Nations, that of the United Nations has illustrated this foundational weakness of transnational institutions. As the creation of multinational treaties, the UN does not rest on similar values and goals of the diverse nations comprising it. It reflects instead the national interests of these nations, their interests believed to be served by participation in the UN, and frequently at odds with the principles of the UN’s founding.
It is no accident that the recalcitrance and violence of the Palestinian Arabs have been encouraged and financed by the UN. The UN was barely two years old when its weakness and hypocrisy were exposed. Its resolution partitioning Mandatory Palestine into Jewish and Arab states was violently rejected by the Arab UN member-states with impunity. In subsequent years, the UN has spent billions of dollars propping up the PA, which is riddled with corruption and incompetence, and regularly incites genocidal hatred of Israel with school curricula and stipends for the families of terrorists. The UN has also been the inciter and enabler of global anti-Semitism and irrational hatred of Israel even by liberal-democratic European member-states who think that Israel is the biggest impediment to their national security and economic interests. Nor should this surprise anyone who realizes that nations pursue their interests as they define them, rather than acting on universal principles, values, or morals.
Oslo, like virtually all of the accords and agreements between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs, is a textbook example of the danger of such naïve and hypocritical internationalism. The disconnect between the West’s understanding of the public pretexts supposedly underlying Yasser Arafat’s rule of the Palestinian Arabs, and the reality of his actions, was expressed several years before Oslo by Jeane Kirkpatrick, Ronald Reagan’s Ambassador to the UN:
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