I was 27-years-old at the time and was present when the PLO and its leader Yasser Arafat arrived in the Gaza Strip and Jericho as a “hero and Palestinian messiah.” In the Gaza Strip, I stood a few meters from the stage where Arafat was welcomed as a savior by thousands of Palestinians in Gaza City. Before that I only knew the Gaza Strip as a soldier, and my last week of military service was the first week of the First Intifada in December 1987. Until then, I was serving as a soldier in Lebanon. But because of the intifada, a number of units were transferred from Lebanon to the Gaza Strip. Six years later, in September 1993, the Oslo Accords were signed, with the hope of having a “final” peace in five years. But no. Arafat was a false messiah.
Many believe that the Oslo Accords were a historic blunder. Israel officially recognized the PLO as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, while the PLO in return recognized Israel’s right to exist in peace and security. A short time later, the original document was developed into a set of core principles, which were adopted in the Knesset by a narrow majority of 61 votes and then signed on the White House lawn. On this occasion there was also a historic handshake between Arafat and Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.
Some 1,700 Israelis have been murdered by Palestinian terrorists since the Oslo Accords were signed. More than 200 Palestinians and nearly 30 Israelis have been killed in confrontations, clashes, military operations, attacks and other incidents so far this year, already exceeding the death toll from last year, according to the latest UN figures.
After the six-year intifada, Israelis and Palestinians had hoped to achieve a long-awaited calm after 1,593 Palestinians were killed by Israeli soldiers and 84 Israelis (source B’Tselem) by Palestinian terrorists over that time. These death tolls pushed Israel to negotiate with the PLO in Oslo to finally bring about peace. After the signing, however, far more people died on both sides than during the First Intifada. Everything went fundamentally wrong. Israel’s main mistake was that it opened the door to Arafat and his PLO. Twenty-three years earlier, in September 1970, Arafat and the PLO had tried to seize power in Jordan.
King Hussein II thwarted the PLO coup in his country, killed 10,000 Palestinians and expelled the PLO from Jordan in what’s now known as “Black September.” The PLO moved from Jordan to Lebanon and dragged that country into civil war. The PLO then attacked Israel from the north with Katyusha missiles. Israel decided to go to war in Lebanon in June 1982. What the Jordanian king did himself on Israel’s eastern border, Israel’s army had to do in Lebanon for the Lebanese government: drive Yasser Arafat and the PLO out of Beirut. The PLO next moved to Tunisia, where it stayed until Israel invited the entire terrorist organization to the Holy Land, on July 1, 1994.
Even then, local Palestinian officials tried to warn Israel that the PLO was not the solution. But international pressure and secret negotiations with the PLO in Oslo eventually left Israel no choice.
I was at the Allenby Bridge, the border crossing between Jordan and Israel, when the first Palestinian Autonomy Police with machine guns crossed the bridge and marched into Jericho. Palestinians in uniform drove to Jericho in a convoy. They were welcomed like victors and heroes after a war. On the Jordanian side, they received the weapons from Israel with magazines in their guns, but no ammunition. Now the PLO was in the country and nothing got better.
Israel withdrew from about 55 percent of the biblical heartland of Judea and Samaria and handed it over to the new Palestinian Authority. But things haven’t gotten any quieter. They’ve only gotten worse.
The Palestinians under the guidance of Arafat’s PLO developed new ways of attacking Israel, like the Palestinian suicide bomber. Palestinians blew themselves up to kill Jews and Arafat did nothing to stop it. In November 1995, Rabin was assassinated in Tel Aviv by a religious fanatic, Yigal Amir. Months later, the nation shifted right and elected Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu to lead Israel forward. Despite having voiced strong criticism of the Oslo Accords while in the opposition, as prime minister Bibi proceeded to withdrew from Hebron and and hold his own negotiations with Arafat. The Second Intifada broke out in the summer of 2000, ultimately claiming the lives of nearly 5,000 Palestinians, most of whom were terrorists. On the Israeli side, 1,011 fatalities (source B’Tselem) were recorded. I still remember this period, when most of the country’s reserve soldiers were called up. All the men in our editorial team were there at the time and the office was empty.
Five years later, in the summer of 2005, Israel unilaterally withdrew from the Gaza Strip and cleared all Jewish settlements there. Since then, Israel has been repeatedly attacked with rockets from the now-Hamas-ruled coastal enclave.
In short, the Oslo Accords failed. The Palestinians got land from Israel, but Israel didn’t get peace. In the foreign media, the Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria are still portrayed as the primary obstacle to peace. So long as Jews live in these biblical lands, the world says true peace is impossible. But that wasn’t part of the Oslo deal, which was supposed to be a phased agreement, with each phase dependent on the successful implementation of the preceding phase. The idea was to move step by step, to build trust, and leave the most delicate points of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for the end, when the two sides were more able to work together. The Jerusalem question, the right of return for Palestinian “refugees,” and final borders. But we never solved the basic problems, and it now looks like the two sides will never tackle these far more sensitive issues.
Israeli governments have understood in recent years that a true peace settlement with the Palestinians is not possible at this time. The New Middle East that Israel’s architect of peace, Shimon Peres, raved about turned out to be stillborn. Rather, it was Netanyahu who correctly understood that conflict management is a better approach and results in more calm. Today, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has fallen into relative obscurity, and this angers the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah and Gaza. Because of this, they manipulate escalations to gain more headlines in the foreign media. At the same time, Arab governments have realized that it is worth making peace with Israel even without a Palestinian peace deal. The formula of “land for peace” has become irrelevant. In fact, if you talk to Palestinians today, the majority will admit that their legendary leader Yasser Arafat was a flop, a false messiah. Many yearn for the good times under Israeli rule before the First Intifada broke out. Back then, we always said that Israel is powerful on the battlefield, but weak in negotiations. My conclusion after living through all this? There is no solution to this conflict. I wish for a solution, I pray for a solution, but I’m not fooling myself.
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