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Oslo at 30 – Israel Still Bleeds From its Self-Inflicted Wound

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By: Kenneth Levin

The formal initiation of the Oslo process on the White House lawn on September 13, 1993, was supposed to herald an era of peace between Israel and the Palestinians. But that hope was based on Israeli delusions.

The truth was readily evident. On the evening of the White House ceremony, Yasir Arafat broadcast a speech on Jordanian television assuring Palestinians that they should understand Oslo in terms of the Palestine National Council’s 1974 decision. This was a reference to the so-called “plan of phases,” according to which the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) would acquire whatever territory it could by negotiations, then use that land as a base for pursuing Israel’s annihilation.

Why did Oslo’s supporters insist peace was at hand? The Arab siege of Israel had been underway for nearly half a century, since the Jewish State’s founding. Invariably under conditions of chronic besiegement – whether involving minorities marginalized and victimized by the surrounding majority or small states whose neighbors seek their destruction – elements of the population under assault will shun reality. They will fool themselves into believing that sufficient self-reform and concessions will win relief. They do so out of desperate longing for respite and despite evidence in the rhetoric and actions of their attackers that their formulations are fantasies.

The promoters of Oslo were drawn overwhelmingly from the nation’s academic, cultural and media elites and elements of the political elite. Their sense of their own infallibility was captured and endorsed by Mordechai Bar-On in his 1996 text on the Israeli peace movement: “Higher learning, it is believed, exposes individuals to a wider variety of opinions, trains them in new analytical and flexible modes of thought, and enables them to relate to issues in a less emotional and more self-critical way, which leads to greater tolerance and understanding of the ‘other’ and of the complexity of the issues.” Oslo’s opponents, in contrast, those who took seriously Arafat’s words and actions, were uneducated and lacked such sophisticated understanding.

To advance Oslo, its proponents mounted an assault on the nation’s history and its people’s attachment to the Zionist project. The so-called New Historians rewrote the history to render Israel more culpable. Not only did they produce fiction in place of history but they set the overarching fact of the conflict on its head: The reality was, and is, that the end of the conflict will come on the Arabs’ timetable, not Israel’s. The Arab world is the dominant actor. The New Historians reversed this, depicting Arab decision-making as two-dimensional, a straightforward response to Israeli decisions. Therefore, if the siege persisted, it was Israel’s fault. Meanwhile, Israeli educators, from grade school to the universities, worked to distance their students from their nation’s history and, again, from attachment to the Zionist project; to ease the path to popular acceptance of dangerous concessions.

Another element of this post-Zionist blitz was Supreme Court president Aharon Barak’s revolution of the Israeli judiciary, currently the subject of so much turmoil in Israel.

Barak insisted that judicial decisions ought to be guided by the perspectives of the social strata that promoted Oslo and post-Zionism. In comments that resonate with Bar-On’s, Barak declared that judges, “should act as the enlightened community would… The metaphor of the enlightened community focuses one’s attention on a part of the public. … to the educated and progressive part within it. … The enlightened community represents that community whose values are universalistic…” As Israel has no constitution, Barak felt free to define as constitutional and legal whatever conformed to his post-Zionist concept of progressive, universalist jurisprudence.

Moreover, the Supreme Court has a veto over Court appointments. The dominant body in Israel’s national government, free of any checks and balances, is also self-perpetuating in its arrogated authority and its biases.

Moshe Landau, president of the Supreme Court some years before Barak, said of Barak’s redefining the Court’s role and wresting for it, and for himself, so much additional power: “…this amounts to a kind of judicial dictatorship… ” Landau also noted the Barak court’s effort to use its appropriated powers to advance elements of the post-Zionist agenda, and he saw the impetus to these judicial exertions as derived largely from the stresses of the siege and the wish to believe that the right Israeli self-reform and self-effacement would end the conflict. Landau expressed fears that this mindset, advanced in the courts, in the media, and in academia, was putting at risk the survival of the state. “It’s a kind of self-hatred. And it causes weakness, fatigue, self-deception and a lack of preparedness to fight [for survival].”

There are obvious ways in which Oslo continues to cast its shadow over Israel. The two Palestinian governments ultimately spawned by Oslo embrace and promote the genocidal anti-Semitism that has marked the Palestinian national movement from its inception, even before its leadership’s alliance with the Nazis. Hamas, controlling Gaza since 2007, openly declares as its religious duty the murder not only of all Israeli Jews but of all Jews worldwide. It has initiated multiple wars with missile bombardments targeting Israeli civilians. The Palestinian Authority insists that the presence of Jews between the Jordan and the Mediterranean has no historical legitimacy and that the entire land must be cleansed of the Jewish presence. It uses its media, mosques and schools to promote its genocidal agenda and pays its citizens to kill Jews.

Less obvious is how the two Palestinian governments, the legacy of Oslo, have fostered a worldwide anti-Semitic campaign militating for Israel’s destruction. It is a campaign supported, for example, by much of Western academia – the repository, according to Mordechai Bar-On and Aharon Barak, of enlightened thinking. It is embraced as well by a circle of left-leaning members of Congress and their followers, by white supremacists and neo-Nazis in America and Europe, and by various parties of the Left in Europe such as the Jeremy Corbyn wing of the British Labor Party. it is also promoted by multiple organs and entities of the United Nations. This is so even as a number of Arab nations have distanced themselves from the genocidal agenda, and some have established formal relations with Israel.

Oslo was for Israel an epic self-inflicted wound, one from which the nation continues to bleed after 30 years.


Kenneth Levin is a psychiatrist and historian and author of The Oslo Syndrome: Delusions of a People Under Siege.

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