Israel Report

April 2001         

The Left's Ongoing Oslo Delusion

by Daniel Pipes

What do you do when everything you predicted fails to happen?

This is the quandary of the Israeli left and its allies in the Jewish diaspora. They were sure that if only Israel made extensive compromises, Palestinians would respond by accepting the permanent existence of a sovereign Jewish state in the Middle East. This certainty inspired the seven-year-long Oslo effort from September, 1993, until September, 2000 (yes, also during Benjamin Netanyahu's three years), when Israeli governments pursued a policy of niceness.

But instead of winning Palestinian acceptance, Oslo's painful concessions had the reverse effect. The more Israel showed flexibility, the more Palestinians smelled blood and became enraged at the very existence of the Jewish state. This culminated in the violence of the past seven months.

Explaining what went so terribly wrong with their plans, the extreme elements of the Israeli and Jewish left blame only Ehud Barak; in a full-page Ha'aretz advertisement, Uri Avnery's Gush Shalom faults him for a "total ignorance of the Palestinian narrative and with disrespect to its importance" -- whatever all that means. Slightly less extreme leftists blame politicians on both sides: "The government ambassadors have failed," announces a coalition of American Jewish groups in a full-page New York Times advertisement.

The moderate left blames Yasser Arafat, though it cannot quite agree on the reasons for his misbehaviour: Either he is too set in his violent ways; or he is a bad character ("either stupid, evil or both"); or he engages in "terrible foolishness and recklessness."

Despite these differences, the entire left shares one key belief: that Oslo failed due to the personality and actions of leaders -- and not because of its inherent faults. The left still thinks Israel making concessions will resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict. And so it hopes the Oslo process will soon be resumed, with just some minor adjustments:

My favourite is the Olive Trees For Peace initiative, which calls on Jews to purchase olive trees and replant them in Palestinian villages.

These suggestions reveal how astonishingly little the left learned from the collapse of the Oslo process. Instead of advocating a change in course, it wants Israel to revert to the discredited policy of niceness. If a mistake is worth making once, the left seems to think, it is worth making again and again.

The Oslo process did not fail because of poor implementation. Rather, its basic assumption -- that an Israeli policy of niceness would seduce Palestinians into accepting Israel -- proved profoundly wrong.

If Israel truly wants to end its problem with the Palestinians, it must adopt the opposite approach: Convince Palestinians not of its niceness but its toughness. This means not replanting Arab olive trees but punishing violence so hard its enemies will eventually feel so deep a sense of futility they will despair of further conflict. Only when Palestinians understand that their nearly century-long fight against Zionism has failed will they finally accept Israel.

A historical analogy comes to mind: When the First World War ended, German armies remained intact and their capital city unoccupied. Not convinced they had really lost the war, Germans harboured a deep discontent that led to the rise of Adolf Hitler. In contrast, Germans emerged from the Second World War utterly defeated and without any illusions to confuse them. This time, understanding the need for a fresh start, they turned to Konrad Adenauer and built a peaceful, successful country.

The Palestinian Authority is hardly Germany, but the analogy does hold: Palestinians will not give up on their aggressive ambitions vis-à-vis Israel until fully convinced that these cannot succeed. Only then can they build a polity and an economy commensurate with their dignity and talent.

Ironically, then, Palestinians need almost as much to be defeated by Israel as Israel needs to defeat them.

It's time for the left to recognize the vastness of its error in the Oslo process and adopt the tough-minded policies that will finally liberate Israelis and Palestinians from their mutual conflict.

Daniel Pipes is director of the Philadelphia-based Middle East Forum and can be reached via

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