The architects of the Oslo Accords, like those who drew up the peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan, assumed that the basic premise of any peace agreement in the Middle East is mutual recognition. For decades, Arab leaders refused to even pronounce the words "the State of Israel," lest it be interpreted as some kind of recognition of the legitimacy of Israel's existence. But as the years passed, and Israel emerged victorious in all of the wars, the Arabs began to accept reality. At the same time, Israel for decades refused to officially recognize the existence of the Palestinian people. Standing out in this refusal was Golda Meir, who quashed any attempt to refer to the Arabs in Eretz Yisrael as "Palestinians."
When the historic handshake between Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat took place on September 13, 1993, it was as if a spotlight had suddenly been turned on that exposed Israelis for the first time to a reality that the world had always recognized: That two peoples live in this land.
But this enormous spotlight blinded millions. As a result of the optic trauma, before the picture became clearer, the great euphoria began. "Arafat will do the dirty work for us"; "Hamas is just a small minority"; "the New Middle East"; all these turned into basic assumptions that were self-evident. The opinions of those who questioned these assumptions - for example, the chief of general staff at the time, Ehud Barak, or the IDF's chief intelligence officers, - were rejected with contempt as archaic and based on axioms that no longer applied.
Slowly but surely, peoples' eyes began to adjust to the light, and they began to see the less-than-pleasant details of the new reality: The Palestinian Authority's agreement to ignore Hamas terror as long it did not originate in areas under its control; the enlarging of the Palestinian armed forces to several times the agreed-upon size; the refusal to fulfill a long line of commitments; the continuing incitement and encouragement of an ethos of armed struggle against Israel.
In the end, the voters threw out the government that brought us Oslo because they saw the details that the spotlight had revealed long before that government, which was still blinded, a prisoner of its own concept.
But the spotlight shed light on another aspect of our reality here. For 50 years we had been accustomed to the idea that there is a definitive separation between the Palestinians in the territories, in the refugee camps and abroad, and between Israel Arabs - those Palestinians, who found themselves, on the Israeli side of the Green Line following the War of Independence. Recently, however, it has become clear that this picture is far from reflecting demographic, ethnic or political realties. This "virtual reality" that we had become used to is slowly fading, since the intifada and certainly since Oslo, and is being replaced by an "actual reality" that is disillusioning. It could be said, therefore, that the Oslo architects provided an important service to Jewish Israelis, who are only now opening their eyes to this.
This process of disillusionment was accelerated this year, helped along by the television series Tkuma, which was shocking in the conclusion to which it led viewers: that the War of Independence was not "cleaner" or "purer" than the wars that followed it. This was followed by public agitation over the marking of the Nakba ("cataclysm") by Israeli Arabs as a blatant and clear opposition to the state's jubilee celebrations.
Several weeks ago, readers of Ha'aretz were exposed to the considered and articulate nationalist, Nasserist philosophy of Hadash MK Azmi Bashara, one of the Israeli Arab (perhaps we should simply say "Palestinian") thinkers who shocked the Israeli Left with the truth as he sees it: No, there isn't, nor will there ever be, Palestinian acceptance of Israel's existence. No, Israel has no moral right to exist (not even within the 1949 armistice lines, Bashara stressed). No, there is no Jewish people or Jewish nation; at best there is a Jewish religion. This is the same Bashara, by the way, who a few months ago in Damascus was not embarrassed to visit the grave of Fathi Shkaki, one of the leaders of the Islamic Jihad.
Readers' reactions in the ensuing weeks reflected their shock. Right-wing readers, of course, wrote to say, "I told you so." But the response by liberal readers who identify with the Left indicated the intensity of the shock. "If this is what the Palestinians think," they wrote, "then there will never be peace." Then, late last month, there was another explosion. Hadash MK Salah Salim, speaking clearly and without any hesitation - and not before checking that, in fact, the accompanying reporters were listening and recording his words - called for the murder of Palestinians who sell land to Jews.
This is a regressive process. It takes us back to the days before the founding of the state, when there was a grassroots battle between the two populations over every road, every piece of land, every house. Israeli Arab leaders are trying to reshuffle the cards, ignoring the last 50 years of history. It is incumbent upon the leaders of the Palestinians, those within the borders of the State of Israel and those on the other side of the Green Line, to understand that Israelis are not going to agree to have the deck reshuffled and to restart the game.
The Oslo process is based - or at least, is supposed to be based - on mutual recognition of the fact that both peoples have the right to exist here, and on Palestinian recognition that they must abandon their dream of turning back the clock and returning to Jaffa, Haifa or Ashkelon. But even the architects of Oslo never dreamed that leaders would arise from among Israeli Arabs who would reject even this most basic premise. If the process of "re-Palestinianization" of the Israeli Arab public means a return to the battle lines of 1948, then we must make it absolutely clear that there will be a price to be paid for this. Two peoples are fated to live in this land. The Palestinians did not understand this in 1948, and brought on themselves a national disaster. Despite this, Israel extended its hand in peace to its Arab residents, out of a belief that only their full integration would eventually lead to peace with all the Palestinians. Was this, in fact, all an illusion?
The writer is a Likud MK.
© Jerusalem Post July 13