On September 13 it will be twenty years since the Oslo Agreements were signed.
Today’s political situation in the Middle East is far from the one perceived by Abba Eban when I interviewed him a few months later. He said at the time, “Never have Israelis and Arabs been meeting in so many ways in Washington, Tokyo, Moscow, Ottawa, Rome and our region. Militarily, the Arabs have been very unsuccessful against Israel. Now they want to be free of the traumas of defeat.”
Eban’s interview was one among 16 with prominent Israelis for my book Israel’s New Future, published in early 1994 and recently reissued. It dealt with both internal and external Israeli perspectives after Oslo.
However greatly Israel’s internal situation has changed, the present reality of the outside world is even more different from what it was 20 years ago.
Israel’s current position in the Middle East is more complex than it has been in a long time. For many decades, Israel’s relations were good or at least correct with one or more of the three powers dominating the area – Turkey, Iran and Egypt. This is no longer the case.
Relations with Iran, Israel’s ally under the Shah, have been abysmal since Ayatollah Khomeini came to power in 1979. Yet at the time of Oslo, there were no significant signs of the country’s leadership’s genocidal intentions.
In Egypt, hostility to Israel was increasingly evident during the rule of Egyptian President Morsi, who was overthrown two months ago. The situation under Egypt’s current government can best be described as puzzling.
Israel’s relations with previous Turkish governments were usually good. However, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has for years now aimed to weaken Turkish-Israeli relations.
Already in 2004 he falsely accused Israel of state terrorism. And Steven Merley, who specializes in the study of political extremism, uncovered details implicating the Turkish government in many aspects of the preparation of the 2010 Gaza flotilla.
Another important change since 1993 is that Israel’s standing in European public opinion has greatly eroded. Concessions made by Israel to the Palestinians in the aftermath of the Oslo Accords, as well as its unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, are long forgotten there.
Studies show that large numbers of Europeans hold a demonic view of Israel. They agree with the statement “Israel is carrying out a war of extermination against the Palestinians.”
In Norway, 38 percent of the adult population believes Israel behaves toward the Palestinians like the Nazis behaved toward the Jews.
In Israel’s New Future, political scientist Dan Segre was already saying – this was nearly two decades ago, remember – that Europe had a real problem with Israel:
“It wants from Israel a point of flash in territorial concessions without paying attention to the damage these may cause to the whole body as far as the defense capabilities of Israel are concerned.”
Segre added that Israel “has shown in the 45 years of its history how an undeveloped country can modernize, whereas many of the foreign European colonies are collapsing.”
Israel’s success, which contrasted so glaringly with Europe’s failures, was frustrating for many Europeans.
Already twenty years ago it was also clear that many of Israel’s political, military, cultural and economic experiences were precursors to what would later take place in the Western world. In other words, to a certain extent Israel was functioning as a “laboratory for the West.”
Looking back twenty years, a major issue unnoticed by the interviewees was that the manner in which the Palestinian Authority educated its children was a key indicator of the PA’s true intentions.
The inability of the prominent Israelis interviewed at the time to foresee the importance of this should be cause for deep concern regarding the accuracy of current “expert” forecasts on important issues.
Yet another decisive development since the book originally appeared is the ongoing incitement against Israel by Palestinian sources. While the PLO and Arafat were in exile they could not promote hate against Israel on the massive scale that both the Palestinian Authority and Hamas have done since. The Palestinians have gained many allies from this incitement.
To be sure, Israel received some benefits from the Oslo Accords, including diplomatic relations with more countries. In the long run however, the damage caused by the massive and ongoing Palestinian and Arab incitement may far exceed whatever benefits it gained from the agreements.