The Oslo Trap

Mr. Pipes is the director of the Middle East Forum. His website address is

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Can the "road map" that President Bush just launched do better than the dismal failure of prior Palestinian-Israeli diplomacy? Yes - if it avoids making the same mistakes.

The failure of the last round was foreshadowed at its very start, on Sept. 13, 1993 - the day of the famous handshake between arch-enemies Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat on the White House lawn and the signing of the Oslo accord.

Less famously, the initiative's death knell came at the same moment, as a pre-recorded speech by Arafat to the Palestinians rolled on Jordanian television: Arafat avoided any mention of peace with Israel or the renunciation of terrorism, the central premises of that day's agreement. Instead, he explained how his having signed the Oslo accord fit into the context of destroying Israel.

Arafat reminded viewers of a decision by the Palestine Liberation Organization in 1974 to establish "a national authority on any part of Palestinian soil that is liberated or from which the Israelis withdraw." He presented the Oslo accord as a step toward the piecemeal dismantling of Israel.

In response, Rabin should have immediately put a stop to the negotiations. He should have declared the just-signed agreement void because Arafat had breached its core principle -- Palestinian acceptance of the Jewish state. Rabin should have suspended his part of the bargain until Arafat spoke again to renounce violence and accept the permanent existence of Israel.

But Rabin, of course, did no such thing, not then and not at any other time during the remainder of his prime ministry, despite myriad cases of incitement and violence. Nor did his successors. To the contrary: Israelis showed themselves so indifferent to violence directed against themselves that -- even as the violence continued -- they withdrew from the large part of the West Bank and Gaza.

More remarkably, their most far-reaching concessions to the Palestinians came after the current violence started in September 2000.

This seeming illogicality had a reason, as Douglas Feith (now undersecretary of defense for policy), explained in 1996 in the Middle East Quarterly. The Israeli leadership, he showed, was engaged in a "withdrawal process, not [a] peace process." In one politician's words, the West Bank and Gaza were but "a burden and a curse." In effect, the Israeli government unilaterally pulled out of those territories.

Arafat exploited this reality by pretending to renounce violence and accept Israel, while in fact doing the reverse. When Israel allowed Palestinians to breach agreements with impunity, Palestinians not surprisingly developed a disdain for those agreements -- feeling ever-more emboldened to kill Israelis. Finally, they launched the "Aqsa intifada" and the Oslo round collapsed.

This history has direct implications for the "road map."

The impetus for diplomacy this time comes from Washington, not Jerusalem; so, as Palestinian violence again flares up (seven Israelis have already been murdered since the road map's unveiling) American officials will be the ones deciding how to respond.

Bush has rightly emphasized the need for "a complete end" to violence and official incitement. He has also promised to insist on "commitments fulfilled." The monumental question ahead is whether such statements are Oslo-like rhetoric or truly operational.

What will happen if:

The promise of Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) to "act vigorously against incitement and violence and hatred, whatever their form or forum may be" is as hollow as Arafat's past assurances? His renunciation of "terror against the Israelis wherever they might be" is meaningless? Hamas and Islamic Jihad engage in violence against Israelis?

The temptation will be -- as Israel's government did during the Oslo round -- to overlook the Palestinians' trespasses, hoping that further benefits will somehow cause them to stop the incitement and the violence. But that approach failed last time and will do likewise this time.

Ironically, should President Bush be serious about his round of diplomacy succeeding, he must give more consequence to the murder of Israelis than did successive Israeli prime ministers. He must be willing to delay the timetable he has set out until the Palestinians truly fulfill his requirements of them.

The White House last fall established a "zero tolerance" policy for Iraqi violations of U.N. resolutions; it must do likewise today with the Palestinians: Any incitement or sanctioned violence stops the process cold.

Doing so will permit the Bush administration to help bring about Palestinian-Israeli reconciliation. But ignoring the violence will only make things even worse than they are now.

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Michael Green - 6/22/2003

I am truly impressed. Pipes managed to write an article without blaming Eric Foner for something.

Edward Curzon - 6/21/2003

Pipes' suggestion would be "dumb" if he wanted peace in the Mideast. But, like all hard-core demogagues, he thrives on hate and misery instead. If Hamas did not exist, he would invent some other bogeyman.

Dan Quail - 6/21/2003

In real life, as opposed to TV cartoons, liars and incompetents get their come-uppance eventually.

Corevan - 6/19/2003

Hey Homer,

Don’t waist your time with these mental midgets. A verbal victory for them is like Mini Me beating the Umpah Lumpah High jump record.

Homer Simpson - 6/18/2003

What a stinker!!

Do they let you leave the institution without assistance?

Paul Snyder - 6/18/2003

I honestly wish Bush success in his "road map to peace" but the reality of the region wil probably not make this possible. Pipes is out of his mind on a "zero tolerance" policy for Palestinian violence. These are two groups fighting over their right to live on their sacred sand. Israel and Palestine have no chance at peace unless the views on both sides change dramatically. The Zionists of the early 1900's would have been better off finding somewhere else to make the new Jewish homeland.

Homer Simpson - 6/18/2003

And it's really getting under your skin.

The Chicken Little hysteria marks you as a fool to most Americans who couldn't give a fig less about your crazy theories.

Bush is kicking your butt, Kriz and he will continue to do so.

Rafael Gomez - 6/17/2003

Pipes' suggestion of "zero tolerance" for palestinian violence is terribly dumb and will just give the extremists complete veto power over the whole process. Hamas doesn't want any negotation with Israel and any "zero tolerance" policy will only please Hamas and will give it complete control over the peace process. Any time the process moves forward, to Hamas' displeasure, they just have to detonate a bomb and the whole process stops or moves backwards. So such policy puts the extremists in complete control of the peace process and is certainly not going to solve the problem.

The only way out is to negotiate inspite of the violence unleashed by both sides, otherwise the dealock will never be broken.

R. Piper - 6/17/2003

The foaming-at-the-mouth Pipes has become a fixture on HNN.
Need I say more?

Stephen Kriz - 6/17/2003

How nice that HNN has given more column space to the Bush apologist, Danny Pipes. The Pipeman does such a marvelous job of cheerleading for the Bushies, it is a sheer delight to read his tortured interpretations of reality - almost like watching a skilled contortionist.

Pipester condescendingly treats the Palestinians as if they are some sort of circus animal, admonishing Bush to delay the timetable "until the Palestinians fulfill his requirements of them". Like what? Walking over burning coals? Eating broken glass? Living like animals in bombed-out filthy ghettoes?

Until Americans recognize that the Israeli governmet are arrogant, thieving criminals and that the U.S. should not give them a plugged nickel until they bargain in good faith, this conflict will have no end. And having Bush refer to a war criminal like Ariel Sharon, who engineered the slaughter in the Sabra and Chowtilla (sp?) refugee camps in 1982, as a "man of peace" is a filthy joke and an affront to sensible people everywhere. No, Pipey, this is not about teaching the Palestinians about how to jump through hoops. It is about teaching Israelis about humility and in treating Palestinian people with decency and respect, since it was their land up until 1947.

Lou S. Veracon - 6/16/2003

We need a final solution to this mess. Let's send the Palestinians to Poland. Ariel Sharon for king of the world.

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