This post is part of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit the archive page.
Who says history doesn’t repeat itself? With the agreement to meet in Washington in the coming weeks, both Israel and the Palestinians are returning to the Oslo Accords, whether either side wants to admit it or not.
Since we’ve had several versions of the Oslo Accords what shall we call the agreement that Israelis and Palestinians are at least thinking about talking about? Oslo Redux?
Think about what’s on the table and what isn’t. The most Israel is willing to let go of and the most Palestinians can hope for is a negotiated autonomy for Palestinians in (parts of) Jerusalem and (parts of) the West Bank. Gaza remains in limbo, cornered by Israel and Egypt.
The same Oslo rules apply as in the original accords. For Palestinians – no military, no control of borders, no independent foreign policy, no movement without being surrounded by Israeli settlers and security infrastructure. For Israel – permanent occupation/control of (all of) Jerusalem and (all of) the West Bank, with the major settlements intact and the matrix of control that guarantees security for those settlements made permanent. As well, Israel obtains a final end to Palestinian claims on what was Palestine and what happened to Palestinians in the creation of Israel.
Now think about the players on the Israeli side. Prime Minister Netanyahu is in the lead on the Israeli side – as he was when the he effectively ended the Oslo process when he became Prime Minister after the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin. Word today is that Martin Indyk, former US Ambassador to Israel, will be the lead moderator in the coming talks in Washington. Remember him as the Oslo Accords were set in place, as they unfolded and were finished off?
As the Times reports, experts on the Middle East peace process agree that Indyk is the man for the job. After all, he’s been around, is well connected and is acceptable to both Israel and the Palestinians. In short, Indyk is perfectly suited for Oslo’s return.
I ran into Indyk a few years ago in Oslo, Norway at a conference on the 15th anniversary of the Oslo Accords. In fact, I shared the stage with him on a panel about the future of Israel/Palestine. Before our panel, I heard Indyk recall how close a peace deal had been during the first years of the Oslo period. It was all about closing the deal. Justice wasn’t on the table.
Off stage, Indyk was quite the diplomat, speaking in soft tones and assuming we shared the same perspective as Americans and as Jews. On stage his manner shifted. When I talked about the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in the formation of Israel, Indyk groaned audibly. He could hardly believe what he heard. Sharing a stage with me was a like a nightmare he wanted desperately to awaken from.
The only speakers at the conference who were more disappointing than Indyk were two Norwegian diplomats who played important roles in the Oslo process. They couldn’t have been more naïve about what they had gotten themselves into in the first place or about why the accords had failed. American diplomats are correctly criticized for their combination of naiveté and power. The Norwegians have little power. They have plenty of naiveté.
In the last few days, I keep thinking of George Santayana’s admonition: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” But, then, in our Oslo return, we not only know Oslo’s history, we’re living it. The same political players are about to tweak it.
Oslo Redux. Is this any way to create a viable and just future for Jews and Palestinians in Israel/Palestine?