The Oslo Accords, signed on a "glorious" September day five years ago, were heralded in a globally-televised event as the dawn of a new era that would finally bring peace to the Middle East. According to "Oslo", the peace process would unfold in two stages: The interim stage would see an elected Palestinian body assume jurisdiction over most of the Arabs in the "occupied territories". In return, the PLO would scrap its charter calling for Israel's destruction, and Palestinian officials would work to foster peaceful relations towards Israel among their people. Negotiations would then begin for the final stage, which would culminate in a peace treaty laying to rest the long-standing enmity between the two sides.

This was Oslo for public consumption, a peace plan that sounded workable and fair, designed to win broad-based support. The truth behind Oslo was somewhat different. Many of Oslo's planners envisaged something more than an agreement that would lead to peace between the State of Israel and the "Palestinians" per se. As previously reported in the Digest, the Norwegian Labour Party, which incubated the talks that conceived Oslo, had long believed that the answer to the Arab-Israeli conflict was the replacement of the Jewish state with one that was simply "democratic". In the years after the Six Day War it had become the "informed" view of many Scandinavian and other politicians that Israel was the problem preventing peace in the Middle East because Israel insists on being Jewish. This is not a wild charge of antisemitism. Let's look at the facts.

From the moment it proclaimed itself the "Jewish" state, Israel was set to collide with the new order of democratisation which had begun to transform the globe after World War II. While Israel often calls itself "the only democracy in the Middle East", it in fact contains in its Declaration of Independence provisos which collide with this claim.

Israel was never meant to be an ideal democracy. It was meant to be, and is, a Jewish one. And it has worked proactively to ensure that it always will be Jewish. In addition, the nature of the conflict forced upon it, and its effect on the people and the boundaries of the land, have left Israel with an overwhelming Jewish majority, while up to two million Arabs claiming a right to the land remain refugees in Judea, Samaria and Gaza.

This state of affairs is anathema to those who believe that the only just solution lies in the one person-one vote style democracy that came to all South Africa's adults after apartheid died. This is the position of the Norwegian Oslo midwives and it is also held by many on Israel's left wing. Israel's Arab "peace partners" have yet a different view. To better assess Oslo, let's look more closely at the pre-existing mindsets of the main players:

The Norwegians

One of the pivotal players in Norway's Labour Party who oversaw the secret Israeli-PLO talks was Bjorn Tore Godal, a veteran socialist and later the country's foreign minister. As chairman of the party's youth organisation (AUF) in 1971, Godal had approved the following statement: "The qualification for lasting peace must be that Israel ceases to exist as a Jewish state, and that a progressive Palestinian state is established [in its place] where all ethnic groups can live side by side in complete equality."

In the ensuing years the course prescribed by the AUF led other senior Norwegian politicians to repeatedly visit and sanitise Yasser Arafat and the PLO in the eyes of their nation, and of the world. They did a remarkable job of turning the individual most widely identified with international terrorism into a "statesman". And after he signed the agreement named after their capital, they had him awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace to validate his transition and further dispel many lingering doubts about its authenticity

The Israelis

Israelis are roughly divided down the middle, politically. To the left are those who hold liberal values as the supreme good against which should be measured every other aspect of a fair and just society. Even their Jewishness is subservient to this. Oslo's strongest supporters are among these Israelis.

Their countrymen to the right tend to believe that Israel must, first and foremost, be Jewish, a haven state for all Jews in the world who want a land of their own in which to live and freely practise their faith. Opposition to Oslo is mostly to be found on this side of the Israeli divide.


For Israel's Arab foes, Oslo was an Allah-send. Their goal has been steadfast since the rise of Palestinian nationalism in the 1920s: The banishment of the Zionists and the reclamation of "Arab" land by any possible means. Forced to adjust its strategy over time, Oslo fitted hand-in-glove into the PLO's 1974 "Phased Plan", reaffirmed by Arafat's second-in-command, Abu Iyad, in 1988:

"According to the Phased Plan, we will establish a Palestinian state on any part of Palestine that the enemy will retreat from. The Palestinian state will be a stage in our prolonged struggle for the liberation of Palestine on all of its territory."

While the PLO hardly has a reputation for being democratic, it has nonetheless succeeded in masking its true intentions by claiming its goal to be a secular and democratic state, the like of which exists nowhere else in the Arab world. To quote one of Arafat's most prominent advisors and top Oslo negotiator, Nabil Sha'ath, (whose sentiments echo Norway's AUF quoted above):

"[A Palestinian state on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip] would probably be accepted by our organisation in the short run. But in the long run, it would not be an economically feasible state. It must ultimately include what is now Israel. We believe that only a democratic state, in which all can live in peace, should exist." (Quoted in the Philadelphia Inquirer on December 1, 1974).

And 15 years later: "If we achieve part of our territory, we will not relinquish our dream to establish one democratic state on all of Palestine." (Quoted in Al-Siyassa, Kuwait, on January 29, 1989).

For liberal-minded Israelis and gentiles, Oslo means Israel's integration into, and acceptance by, the democratic nations of the world. For the Arabs, Oslo has effectively brought about the first phase of the PLO's plan of stages.

We leave our readers with this question:

Is the crisis threatening Oslo today really the result of Israel's intransigence, as is universally believed? Or is Arafat, by refusing to keep to his signed agreements, orchestrating events because it has been in his mind all along to get as much land as possible through negotiations, before launching the second stage—the taking of the rest of "Palestine" by force?

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