The most fundamental question for this new Post-Oslo era is this: How could Israel have allowed itself to pursue the ''peace process'' in the first place? The answers are very likely to raise serious doubts about the nature of secular Zionism itself and its alleged success in resolving the modernity dilemma of the Jews.
The great mystery about the Oslo ''peace process'' is not why it failed but why anyone in Israel could have been persuaded in the first place that it might succeed. Secular Zionism was supposed to ''normalize'' the Jewish people. The simple fact of the matter is that no ''normal'' people under similar circumstances would have succumbed to such foolishness.
Here we had the leaders of Israel from the Labor Party, the Israeli Left and the Likud insisting that peaceful relations with the Arabs could be achieved through a long process of Jewish self-deprecation, self-denial and self-humiliation. They claimed that peace could be achieved through Israel agreeing to turn over its heartland to terrorists, that security could be achieved by the abandonment of security and Israel distancing itself from its Jewish roots.
They insisted for years that if only Israel would jettison its traditional defense policies and instead trust the goodwill that would be generated by making concessions to the Palestinians, Jordanians, and the Syrians, peace would break out.
They convinced themselves that military force was obsolete and played no further role — this in the most barbarous region of the planet. In the early 1990's, Yasir Arafat and the PLO leadership were far off in Tunisia where they had been banished as a result of the devastatingly effective, if highly controversial, Israeli campaign in Lebanon in 1982.
The world — or at least the United States — had made its peace with the Israeli position that the PLO was not an acceptable partner in any Arab-Israeli peace talks and that the most Palestinian Arabs could hope for would be a limited autonomy with no role for the PLO. The intifada violence that had begun in the late 1980's had petered out, with fewer and fewer incidents by the month and with terrorists so desperate for weapons that they were concocting zip guns out of household materials.
True, Israeli troops were harassed by Palestinians throwing rocks, but this was a harassment that could have been ended at any time through a firmer response, albeit one with some fleeting public relations costs. The rock throwing generally threatened neither the soldiers nor the existence of the State of Israel.
Israel Rehabilitates Arafat
But into this picture of near-pastoral tranquility came the Oslo ''peace process'' to snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory. It was based on the proposition that economic interests and consumerism had replaced military power as the determinants of international relations in the post-modern world. It sought to reduce tensions with the Palestinian Arabs who had just been defeated in their intifada by importing the PLO's leadership into the ''occupied territories'' and then allowing it to arm itself and build up an army in the suburbs of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
Incredible as it now seems, the Israeli government actually provided many thousands of rifles to Palestinian terrorists sworn to destroying the country.
Seven years into the ''peace process,'' Prime Minister Ehud Barak was ready to hand over to the PLO the Old City of Jerusalem, including control over the Western Wall, in addition to slabs of pre-1967 Israeli territory in the Negev — all this while the Palestinians were still routinely murdering Jews. The PLO's response to this obsequiousness was to launch a war against Israel in the form of the Al-Aqsa intifada.
At this point, the army of tens of thousands of PLO soldiers possesses anti-aircraft missiles that threaten Israeli civilian and military air traffic. They possess anti-tank weapons and Katyusha rockets. They have already shelled civilian areas inside pre-1967 Israel. The Gaza Strip is today a large mortar factory. The goodwill measures of Israel have produced a campaign of Nazi-like hatred led by the Palestinian Authority, down to and including virulent Holocaust denial accompanied by Holocaust justification (never mind the contradiction).
Every single prediction of the pro-Oslo camp has proved incorrect, and every single warning by the opponents of Oslo has proved correct. The PLO was never interested in resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict but rather in establishing itself in the West Bank and Gaza in order to use those areas as staging grounds for attacks against Israel, with the ultimate goal of drawing the Arab countries into a new full-scale Arab-Israeli war.
The complete debunking of the range of arguments expressed in favor of the ''peace process'' is by now unnecessary, as events themselves have proven more than sufficient in doing so. True, much of the Israeli intellectual elite and the ''chattering classes'' are still living in the dead past. They are still insisting that new formulas and new concessions be offered so that at long last a ''permanent deal'' can be signed with Arafat, but few others still suffer such blindness.
In any case, the polls in Israel all show that even the pro-Oslo supporters do not believe for an instant that the Palestinians would abide by any such deal. The extent of the cognitive dissonance that characterizes Israelis at the beginning of the twenty-first century is best exhibited by the fact that the vast majority of those who support continuation of the ''peace process'' also say they believe that Arafat will follow any agreement with more terror and more attacks on Israel and that the Palestinian Authority will violate any future deal it signs.
Future historians will find it a daunting challenge to explain how Jews, often stereotyped as the smartest humans on the planet and with more Nobel Prize winners than any other group, could have allowed themselves to be snookered into the Oslo accords.
How could seemingly intelligent people place their faith in such absurdities? No ''normal'' people would voluntarily entrust its national security to a group of fascist terrorists and endanger its very existence because of a belief that Internet services and consumerism had made defense and territory superfluous.
In fact, the entire Oslo episode of Jewish history is an indicator not only of the silliness and shallowness of Israeli politicians, but of something far deeper and far more ominous. Very simply stated, Oslo may very well indicate that secular Zionism has failed. This failure of secular Zionism is one and the same with the crisis of ''Israeliness.''
Indeed, Oslo has shown how shallow and empty is the whole enterprise known as Israeliness. In its bid to replace traditional Jewish identity and consciousness with civic Israeliness, with Hebrew-speaking consumerism and post-Jewish civil patriotism, secular Zionism has in fact created a bizarre new entity riddled with confusion regarding its own identity, exhibiting virulent self-hatred and self-debasement, willing to blame itself for all of the problems created by Arab aggression and fascism, and all too willing to sacrifice itself on pagan alters of political correctness.
In the nineteenth century, much of the original opposition to Zionism by the religious leaders of Europe was based on their allegation that secular Zionism was thinly-disguised assimilationism dressed up in nationalist symbolism. How ironic it will be if history records that the last decade of the twentieth century and the first of the twenty-first proved them essentially correct.
The Oslo era was accompanied by a massive assault on Israel's pride and confidence by its own leaders. Israeli intellectuals lectured the country about its original sinfulness. Israel was flooded with ''New Historians'' and ''Post-Zionists'' who zealously set about the task of rewriting history texts and school curricula to promote the Arab ''narrative'' — i.e. the Arab version of history.
Israeli politicians, ever attentive to the zeit-geist of trendy secularism, announced themselves ready to strip the country of all of its Jewish national emblems, from the star on the flag to the words of the national anthem. And, after 1,300 years of discrimination against Jews by Arabs, Israeli politicians were implementing ''reverse discrimination'' programs, under which Arabs received preferences and Jews suffered quotas.
One after the other, Israeli politicians mouthed the post-modernist gibberish of the anti-Israel choruses from overseas — how Israelis need to stop ruling over another people, how they have to learn to understand the “other,” how they must bring themselves to commemorate the ''tragedies'' the Jews had imposed upon the Arabs and make restitution.
While assimilationism in the Diaspora has often been described as “self-hatred,” the term is misleading. Diaspora assimilationists are simply indifferent to their Jewishness and want nothing to do with Judaism. They generally do not actively wish Jews harm.
The Oslo era in Israel, however, saw the emergence, perhaps for the first time in history, of virulent and literal anti-Jewish bigotry among the intellectual, media and political elites of Israel. Israeli universities became petri dishes for Jewish anti-Zionists and anti-Semites, ''Post-Jewish'' leftist extremists, and people openly advocating the elimination of their own country and its merger into some sort of Palestinian state.
The Israeli public school system was conscripted to proliferate Arab ideology. Israeli politicians and leftist professors seriously proposed that Israel create a National ''Naqba'' Day in which it atone for the very fact of its creation and the ''catastrophe'' that this creation caused to Israeli Arabs.
The Israeli media, operating under the nearly complete hegemony of the Left, bludgeoned the country on a daily basis, promoting Arab propaganda in editorials, Op-Ed columns and even ostensibly objective news stories.
This self-flagellation produced a situation whereby each and every atrocity committed by Arabs was greeted with calls from the Israeli chattering classes for further concessions and appeasement by Israel. Some, including tenured extremists at the universities, went so far as to justify and celebrate Arab acts of terror as necessary to force Israelis to come to their senses and make peace.
For seven years the Israeli elites lived in a pretend world in which Jews were to blame for everything and Arabs were merely expressing ''frustration'' at being ''mistreated'' for so many years by Jews. The psychological war by Israel's elites against national pride, dignity and self-respect — indeed against national existence — was accompanied by a set of diplomatic policies expressing little more than self-loathing.
Israel was pursuing a policy that in effect let no act of Arab violence go unrewarded. Ehud Barak surrendered to terror and withdrew Israeli troops from Lebanon, and in so doing placed the Haifa bay and its refineries within rocket range of Hizbullah. Syria, despite decades of aggression, sponsorship of terrorism and government-sanctioned Holocaust denial, was begged by Barak to take back not just the Golan Heights but also parts of pre-1967 Israel with access to the waters of the Sea of Galilee.
This national policy of self-debasement was accepted with equanimity by much of the Israeli public, which hoped against hope that its leaders' promises of a light at the end of the Oslo tunnel would come to pass. The descendants of the Jews who had enlisted en masse to fight to defend Hungary and express their Magyar patriotism in the nineteenth century were now standing by and allowing Israeli politicians to demean Jews and make a mockery out of Jewish patriotism in Zion. And all the while they were subsidizing the venomous anti-Zionist extremists at the Israeli universities and elsewhere.
Secular ?Israeliness' Exposed
For thirty years or so after Israel's creation, few would have challenged the idea that secular Zionism had achieved unqualified success in its begetting the new “Israeli.” Israeli Jews were at last ''normal'' citizens of their own country, patriotic to the point of being intolerable, proud to the point of hubris, confident in themselves and in their military, sure of their moral justifiability.
But just a few years later these same Israelis were reduced to begging Yasir Arafat to allow his terrorist squad leaders to meet with Israeli army officers in order to maintain the facade of a ''peace process.'' Israeli politicians abandoned any pretense that further concessions to the Arabs would come only when Arabs abstained from violence. Israeli leaders and intellectuals in effect endorsed the idea of Israel paying reparations and tribute to the Arabs who had attacked the Jewish state and lost.
The 1990's were the era in which it became evident that a great many Israelis and most of the Israeli elite had lost their will to survive as a nation. After centuries in which Jews maintained the most militant sorts of pride and self-assurance even while being mistreated, despised and humiliated, here were the Israelis, possessing one of the great armies of the world, abandoning all pride and explicitly promoting self-humiliation.
The same Israeli military that had rescued the Jewish hostages in Entebbe was suddenly incapable of rescuing a wounded IDF soldier bleeding to death in Joseph's Tomb in Nablus or protecting children under fire in Jerusalem neighborhoods.
Here was an Israel unwilling to use force to prevent Palestinians from firing rifles and mortars into civilian homes, instead asking to hold talks with those doing the shooting in order to ''work out differences and reach understandings.''
An Israel no more than two generations removed from the Holocaust was willing to hold ''peace talks'' with people who denied there ever was a Holocaust and who insisted that Jews use the blood of gentile children to make Passover matzos. The same Jews who fought against enormous odds and won in 1948 were acquiescing in a ''peace process'' that involved unilateral peace gestures from Israel in exchange for the Arabs continuing to make war against the Jews.
No other nation on earth would tolerate such a thing. Why, then, did Israel? The only possible explanation is that the Israelis who pursued Oslo were not really a nation. They had never really developed a national consciousness, but had been merely play-acting all along.
Much of the problem can be traced to the bankrupt notion that some sort of ''Israeliness'' can exist separate from Jewishness. This is the assimilationism that has resulted from attempting to create a ''Post-Jewish'' Israel.
Any Israeliness anchored in Jewishness could never have sanctioned a set of policies based on the proposition that violent anti-Semitism was somehow the fault of the Jews and the result of mistreatment of others by Jews.
An Israeliness grounded in Jewishness would never have given rise to a struggle for acceptance based on the presumption that people hate Jews because of Jewish sins and shortcomings and misdeeds.
Only a people detached from and ignorant of Jewish history could have believed that violent anti-Semites would be bought off with promises of high-tech investments and five-star tourist hotels.
In the post-Oslo era, the charade has come to an end. It is clear now that secular Zionist ''Israeliness'' has undercut the will to survive and the very legitimacy of the State of Israel. Moreover, it was this secular Israeliness that gave birth to the pathology of self-deception and self-loathing that in turn produced the Oslo phenomenon.
As a consequence of Oslo, it has become increasingly difficult to deny the obvious:
Secular Zionism — Zionism without Judaism — has failed utterly to resolve the Jewish dilemma with modernity.
Steven Plaut is a professor at the University of Haifa. His book ''The Scout,'' which focuses on the Bedouins who serve in the Israeli army, is available through Amazon.com.
About the Author: Steven Plaut is a professor at the University of Haifa. He can be contacted at email@example.com.
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