Last week, the New York Times kicked off its twentieth anniversary celebration of the Oslo Accords with an op-ed, Oslo, 20 years later by Uri Savir. I didn’t have to read far to learn the premise of of Savir’s argument. (Actually, I didn’t have to read it any of it to know the premise. This is the New York Times. Obviously, Israel was going to be substantially responsible for the failure of Oslo.) In the third paragraph, Savir wrote:

On the other hand, Oslo failed to meet the Israeli and Palestinian expectation of resolving their bitter conflict, primarily due to the election in 1996 of an anti-Oslo government in Israel led by Benjamin Netanyahu, and also Yasser Arafat’s failure to combat Palestinian terror and extremism. Nevertheless, after 20 years we can and should assess the lessons of the Oslo experience for the current peace process.

First of all these two factors should have been reversed. Netanyahu’s skepticism towards the peace process by 1996, was well founded. He never would have been elected if Arafat hadn’t failed to “combat Palestinian terror and extremism.” (In truth it was much worse than that. Arafat organized terror.)

Israel had elections scheduled for May, 1996. Since the assassination of Yitzchak Rabin, Netanyahu, the leader of the opposition had trailed Rabin’s successor,Shimon Peres in polls. He trailed until a series of terror attacks in February and March killed dozens of Israelis.

At the time, Charles Krauthammer (after mocking a Washington Post headline that declared that Israel was suffering from a “Peace that kills”) wrote:

The “peace process” is in fact nothing more than a unilateral Israeli withdrawal. The Palestinians have gotten Gaza, West Bank autonomy, huge influxes of foreign aid, international recognition, their own police force, their first free elections ever (something their Turkish, British, Egyptian and Jordanian rulers never granted them).

In return Israel has gotten what? Pats on the head from the United States. The occasional trade mission from Tunisia. And, from the Palestinians, death. This is peace?

The Labor Party’s idea was that it would give up the territories and contract out anti-terrorism to Yasser Arafat. It has not worked out that way. From the beginning it was obvious that Arafat was either unable or unwilling to control Hamas.

It was only then that Netanyahu started to lead in the polling and eventually went on to win the election two months later. It was Arafat’s perfidy that led to Netanyahu’s election. There was a cause and effect. By reversing the order, Savir distorted the truth. Had Arafat been sincere, Netanyahu would never have been elected. By putting Netanyahu’s election first, Savir is apportioning as much blame to Israel as to the Palestinians for the failure of Oslo. That is simply not true.

Twenty years ago (actually September 5, 1993) an op-ed, Peace in our Time? was published by the New York Times. The author argued:

But surely Israel will control security in the vacated areas? Wrong. According to the deal, the Israeli Army will be responsible for “external” security (meaning the defense of Israel’s borders), while the P.L.O. will take over “internal” security in all the areas under its control.

What will happen when terrorists attack Israelis in Jerusalem and return to nearby P.L.O. land? Or fire rockets from hills above Tel Aviv? The Israeli Army will have no right to enter the territory and root them out. This, believe it or not, is the “internal” responsibility of Yasir Arafat.

The author who predicted the outcome that Krauthammer observed was none other than Binyamin Netanyahu. Even now Israel is forced to deal with a corrupt autocrat, who is said to be a moderate. Even if Abbas is a moderate, after him there is no support for moderation. So does Israel make material concessions for promise unlikely to survive Abbas?

Israel has risked, sacrificed and lost a lot for peace. Despite that, it finds itself marginalized possibly even more than it was twenty years ago. (Read Barry Rubin’s recent Obama, Israel and the Next Three Years for some of the particulars.) Israel sees territory that it gave up or retreated from in the name of peace – Sinai, Gaza and southern Lebanon – becoming terror launching pads.

What’s dangerous about Savir’s column is that by blaming Israel – mainly or even substantially – for the failure of the past twenty years of peace processing, he obfuscates the true reason Oslo has failed: that the Palestinians have no interest in peace, but in getting concessions from Israel.

Robert Nicholson recently summarized the dynamic, Oslo Accords Unequal? You bet:

Even a cursory look at the agreements will reveal the discrepancy. Israel mostly gives, the PLO mostly takes. Israel makes concessions, the PLO makes demands. Israel surrenders extensive prerogatives of land, governance, and security. The PLO surrenders only its “right” to armed struggle and its denial of Israel’s existence. …
The PLO never succeeded in aiding the Palestinian people, curbing Islamist terrorism, or shifting Palestinian attitudes toward peace. The fact that Israel never cancelled the agreements completely—which it almost certainly has grounds to do—testifies only to Israel’s persistent, if overly optimistic, desire for peace between the river and the sea.

To believe as Savir does – and he’s not alone – is to believe that peace is possible if only more pressure is brought to bear on Israel. If one does not believe that Israel is substantially to blame for the failure, then the possibility of peace in the near future is a lot more remote. Optimism is fine, but not when it’s divorced from reality. The fact that so little has changed on the Palestinian side despite major Israeli concessions since Binyamin Netanyahu wrote his op-ed twenty years ago should serve as a wake up call to those still wedded to the Oslo delusion.