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Naomi Ragen: Awakenings and courage


I thought you might be interested in seeing the sea change that has come over the average Israeli in the last two years. I'm sending you two pieces. One by Moshe Sheskin about himself, and one from journalist Yossi Klein Halevi, about the mistakes of the Oslo Process. As one reader commented on Mr. Halevi's article: "the tragedy of Yossi Klein Halevi's article is that it took some 600 Jewish deaths, thousands of injuries over three horrible and grusesome years, and the collapse of Israel's sense of internal security, to awaken in him and his like-minded pro-Oslo friends some sense of reality. During the Oslo years, he was not writing about the ten flaws of Oslo. Instead, he was visiting mosque services and dancing with Islamic celebrants in their mosques on their holy days... He writes about it in his book."

In my own name I will say that the bandwagon mentality was rife during the Oslo years, and journalists feared blacklisting and villification if they didn't jump on. I myself felt it, and although I never believed in or supported the Oslo process (you can check out my Post articles during those years...) I too avoided coming out as strongly against it as I should have for fear of just that kind of criticism. The Jerusalem Report, for whom Halevi wrote frequently, was an Oslo rah-rah cheerleader from day one, and was responsible for much disinformation. What a shame it takes so much terror and pain to open people's eyes, and mouths.

Hindsight is great. But the question is: as soon as the next cockamamie idea hatches, will all of us have the courage to kill it, before it kills us?


We Are People Too
By Moshe Sheskin (

A number of years ago, during a stint in the Israel army reserves, I was posted at one of the bridges over the Jordan River. It was my unit's responsibility to examine the travelers, coming from Jordan, prior to their entry into Israel and the disputed territories in order to prevent contraband from entering the country, especially detonators,. As our commanding officer remarked, "Remember, if a bomb goes off due to your negligence, it may also mean the life of your wife and children." His comments had an instantaneous effect upon us and although the temperature in the Jordan Valley in August hovered around the 50 degree mark and hordes of flies added to our discomfort, we meticulously examined each and every traveler, their documents, baggage, personal effects and a body search when necessary.

At one point, while going through the process, a young lady shouted at me.

"We are people too you know".

Her anger and discomfort were apparent but the words were penetrating so that for many years, during my more liberal period, I couldn't shake her cry and my feeling at that time echoed her frustration and agony. Peace was a necessity and I was convinced that it was within the realms of possibility, at least within the next few years..

I firmly believed that we had reached a point in our relationship with our Arab cousins where we no longer would control their destiny but could live side by side, two separate people sharing a common land and history. I felt that the agreements reached by the Palestinian Authority through Arafat would finally bear fruit and that we really had a partner for peace.

The cry of that young woman melted into nothingness in October 2000 when two of our soldiers, who had lost their way, were brutally lynched. The elation by the populace and those who had actually perpetrated this sadistic act has been permanently etched in my mind.

Thus the intafadah was born and with it, a change in my attitude. No more did I hear that young women crying to me, "We are people too". Slowly but surely, after many months of increased conflict and with it the increased loss of life in the civilian population, my liberalism and socialist thinking gave way to a distinct hard line. I can no longer believe in the ability of Arafat to make peace. I no longer believe in Arafat's commitment to peace evident by his refusal to honour signed agreements. Arafat's rhetoric only proves once more that the goal is not only that of a Palestinian State but the complete destruction of Israel.

I lost faith in the Israeli Arabs, the majority of whom not only approve of the intafadah but support it in many other ways. This is borne out by the numerous articles and polls that were carried out over the last few years. As citizens of Israel, I had expected a certain degree of loyalty, while understanding their feelings and their frustration with respect to our problem with their kinsmen. The action of our Arab members of the Knesset only showed me that we had a 'fifth column' in our midst. Yes, it's now my turn to cry out,


We don't educate our children to hate.

We don't revel in the death of innocent civilians.

We don't shoot our guns in the air to celebrate an Arab death.

We don't march in the streets to celebrate massacres.

We don't have support of a United Nations with a built in Arab majority.

We don't have the support of the Europeans and their anti-Semitic attitudes.

We don't use humans with bombs attached to commit suicide and kill innocent people.

What we do have is the will to survive and the will to live in peace. What we want is to take our place in the Middle East as a recognized partner for the sake of all. What we want is a democratic region where social and economic conditions will be the right of every individual. When will this happen? When Arabs will begin to live in peace with each other and recognize the rights of the individual. Until then, we have no choice but to defend ourselves and remain strong, not only against our immediate neighbors, but if need be, against the world.



The Ten Fatal Flaws of Oslo
By Yossi Klein Halevi

President Bush's recent historic speech demanding Palestinian restraint and reform as preconditions for statehood was above all a eulogy for the Oslo process. In place of Oslo's "land for peace" formula, Bush now suggests "peace for land" -- that is, first the Palestinians prove their peaceful intentions, and only then does Israel empower them with territorial concessions.

In establishing that new sequence, Bush sought to correct a fatal flaw of the Oslo process: that Israel would yield concrete assets in exchange for easily revoked promises of peace. But that was only one fatal flaw in a fundamentally flawed process. Here is a list of the 10 fatal miscalculations made by the architects of Oslo -- perhaps the worst wound Israel ever inflicted on itself:

1. Empowering Arafat: "Only Arafat can make the necessary compromise," the Oslo visionaries assured us. "Only he can force the Palestinians to give up their dream of return. Besides," they continued, "if we don't negotiate with him, we'll be left with Hamas."

When the time came, of course, Arafat refused to make the most basic concessions on refugee return. And in the last two years, his Fatah has joined with and even surpassed Hamas in suicide bombings. Empowering Arafat, then, meant creating a Hamas-like regime -- protected by international legitimacy.

2. Whitewashing Arafat: They want to forget it now, but many on the Israeli and American Jewish left were actually charmed by the mass murderer. The Hartzufim, Israeli TV's satirical puppets' show, portrayed Arafat as a bumbling but basically harmless and even likeable old man. Yitzhak Rabin's granddaughter said he was like an "uncle."

Peace activists went on pilgrimage to him and listened to his paranoid tirades about an alliance of Muslim terrorists with settlers and Israeli generals to destabilize the "peace of the brave." And they continued to grant him legitimacy and ignore the growing incitement. Even Dennis Ross admits it now -- but not the extent of the left's cover-up for Arafat.

That cover-up began literally the day after the White House handshake, when Arafat told an audience in Amman that the Oslo process was the first step in the implementation of the "stages plan," the PLO's program for the gradual destruction of Israel. Arafat hid nothing from us; we hid the truth from ourselves.

3. Empowering the leadership of 1948: PLO-Tunis represented the Palestinian diaspora, the refugees of 1948. Israel resurrected the PLO, just as it was on the verge of collapse following the Gulf War. By saving Arafat, we imposed the leadership of 1948 onto the Palestinians of 1967 -- that is, of the West Bank and Gaza, who had lived with us, however unhappily, and with whom we'd shared a measure of coexistence. Our struggle with the Palestinians of 1967 was over borders; our struggle with the Palestinians of 1948 was over existence itself. Yet we chose to empower precisely that part of the Palestinian people that is emotionally and ideologically incapable of compromise. The result was to suppress any chance for dialogue with the Palestinians of 1967.

4. Promoting a false symmetry: "Both sides want peace," the Oslo architects assured us." A Palestinian mother and a Jewish mother both want the same things for their children." Our children came home from kindergarten waving little flags made of Stars of David entwined with doves; their children were taught paeans to suicide bombers. And now Palestinian mothers send their grown-up children off to martyrdom.

The flaw was in not understanding the basic asymmetry in the way each side viewed the other: A majority of Israelis had come to see this conflict as a struggle between two legitimate national movements, and accepted partition as a moral solution; while a majority of Palestinians continued to believe that all justice was on their side, and that partition was, at best, an unavoidable option imposed by Israeli power.

5. Pretending that the Middle East resembles Western Europe after World War II: That was a favorite insight of Shimon Peres, the basis for his New Middle East. Like the European Union, he said, the Middle East was on its way to replacing dreams of national glory for prosaic prosperity. Peres was right about Israeli society: Like Western Europe after World War II, most Israelis had fought one war too many and were ready to exchange nationalist for consumerist dreams. But he misjudged the Arab world by one war: Arab society more closely resembles Europe after World War I -- aggrieved, militaristic and waiting for revenge for all those decades of Israeli military victories.

6. Encouraging dictatorship: In Yitzhak Rabin's words, Arafat could be trusted to suppress terrorism because, unlike Rabin himself, he wouldn't have to contend with "Bagatz and B'tzelem" -- that is, with a Supreme Court and human rights watchdogs. The result was that Israel helped build one of the Arab world's most corrupt regimes, and destroyed whatever hope the Palestinians had of emulating Israeli democracy.

7. Turning Judea And Samaria into the West Bank: The moral premise of partition is that two nations claim the same land, and so the only fair solution is to divide it between them. But what if one side insists that the whole land belongs to it by right, while the other side waives its claim to part of the land?

That is precisely what Israel did by turning "Judea and Samaria" into the "West Bank." The result was that the world quickly came to see the Israeli willingness to concede its biblical heartland as no concession at all, merely the occupier returning his theft to its natural owners.

The Palestinians, meanwhile, kept reminding the world that they had lost the 78 percent of Palestine that formed pre-67 Israel. Those Jews who supported partition should have been the first to stake their claim, at least in principle, to the whole of the land. If we have no claim to Hebron and Bethlehem and Shechem, what right do we have to trade those for Jaffa and Haifa and Lod?

8. Limiting the timetable: The Oslo process intended to resolve a 100-year conflict in seven years. By the end of that absurdly condensed period, Israel was to have transferred most of the territory to Palestinian control, with no mechanism for testing Palestinian compliance. The basis of the deal was essentially "land for words" -- strategic territory for guarantees of peace. But few bothered to check whether we were even getting the right words in return.

9. Delegitimizing the critics: It's not only the right who delegitimized Rabin; the left did the same to Oslo's critics. And Rabin himself was a prime offender, mocking the settlers and even comparing the Likud to Hamas as part of an "anti-peace" bloc. Maybe had the left paid more attention to the criticism of the right, we would have been spared seven years of self-deception. Just as Israel might have been spared the excesses of the Lebanon War and unlimited settlement, had the right learned to listen to its leftwing critics.

10. Democracy for peace: The Rabin government sacrificed democratic norms for the sake of the peace process, ramming through the Knesset far-reaching territorial concessions on the basis of a single vote -- that of an unscrupulous rightwing parliamentarian who was lured to support Oslo by a political bribe. It is hard to recall another democracy making such a fateful decision on the basis of a majority of one, let alone a majority won through a parliamentary trick.

The culmination of Oslo's anti-democratic spirit occurred at Taba in January 2001, when Prime Minister Ehud Barak, left with a minority government and facing a landslide defeat, offered the Palestinians even more concessions than he'd offered six months earlier at Camp David.

The above list is by no means exhaustive; additional follies could easily be cited. Understanding what went wrong with Oslo is crucial, especially at a time when some people are trying to divide the Jewish world with their insistence that Oslo's failure was Israel's fault.

Yossi Klein Halevi is a contributing editor of The New Republic and a senior writer for the Jerusalem Report. This column appears exclusively in JUF News and The Jewish Week in New York. He is the author of "At the Entrance to the Garden of Eden: A Jew's Search for G-d with Christians and Muslims in the Holy Land."

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Last update: 8/14/02; 1:46:17 PM.