The recent vote in Britain’s Parliament to recognize a Palestinian state (passed by 274 to 12) is, we are told, of no real consequence. Prime Minister Cameron’s government has said it signals no change in British policy.
But the vote was promoted by anti-Israel voices in parliament that support the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel, have called for a total European trade embargo against the Jewish state, and have compared Israel to Nazi Germany.
It was also promoted by some Israelis, as is inevitably the case with anti-Israel actions emanating from any quarter. Most notably, as reported in the Times of Israel, “some 300 ex-diplomats, former ministers and activists” signed a letter supporting the parliamentary motion.
While the motion refers to a Palestinian state “alongside the state of Israel,” it, in fact, advances what was Yasser Arafat’s goal both before and during the Oslo years and has been Mahmoud Abbas’s aspiration since he succeeded Arafat: to win recognition of a Palestinian state in all the territory beyond the pre-1967 cease-fire lines and to do so without any end-of-conflict agreement with Israel.
On the very evening of the famous signing of the first Oslo accords on the White House lawn in September, 1993, Arafat, appearing on Jordanian television, declared to his Palestinian constituency and to the wider Arab world that they should understand Oslo as the first phase of the Plan of Phases. The reference was to a policy elaborated by the PLO in 1974 and calling for the acquisition of whatever territory could be gained by negotiations and subsequent use of that territory as a base for pursuing Israel’s destruction. He repeated this explanation of Oslo at least a dozen times within a month of the White House ceremony and many times thereafter.
At the Camp David negotiations in the summer of 2000, Arafat rejected all the concessions offered by Prime Minister Barak and President Clinton and offered no counter-proposals, as the concessions came with the expectation of Arafat signing an end-of-conflict agreement and he had no intention of doing so. Instead, in September, 2000, he launched his terror war against Israel which, in the ensuing several years, left thousands maimed and killed. He also sought to win European recognition of “Palestine,” with borders following the pre-1967 armistice lines and without any Palestinian-Israeli agreement or any commitment by the Palestinians to forego future territorial claims.
The Europeans rejected Arafat’s request, in no small part because of forceful Clinton Administration opposition to such recognition. But Mahmoud Abbas has continued to pursue Arafat’s game plan. He, too, has rejected as inadequate extensive Israeli concessions, such as those offered by then prime minister Ehud Olmert in 2008, has offered no counter-proposals, and has sought to gain world recognition of “Palestine” along the pre-1967 armistice lines without any agreement with Israel or any renunciation of further claims.
In addition, like Arafat, Abbas uses Palestinian media, mosques and schools to indoctrinate his people to dedicate themselves to Israel’s destruction. The incessant message is that Jews have no historic connection with the land of Israel, that they are merely colonial interlopers whose state must be expunged, that terrorists who have successfully targeted Israeli civilians are heroes to be venerated, and that it is the obligation of Palestinians to pursue Israel’s annihilation.
Abbas has now, of course, formed a unity government with Hamas, which even more explicitly declares its commitment to Israel’s extirpation and indeed calls for the murder of all Jews.
But Abbas has made more progress than did Arafat in winning the recognition he desires outside of any agreement with Israel. He is now aggressively pursuing more substantive successes in that course both at the UN and in Europe.
Why would some Israelis, including “ex-diplomats, former ministers and activists,” support Abbas’s gambit?
The explanation lies in why about 50% of Israelis in 1993 embraced Yasser Arafat as a “peace partner” even as Arafat continued to make clear his objective remained Israel’s destruction. All Israelis want an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict, and many were so desperate for some resolution that they deluded themselves, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that sufficient Israeli concessions, particularly territorial concessions, would indeed win peace.
In fact, Arafat’s arrival in the territories, in July, 1994, was accompanied by an unprecedented increase in anti-Israel terror. Despite commitments in the first Oslo agreements to clamp down on those involved in attacks on Israelis and to end incitement, Arafat did little to curb the terror, publicly praised those involved in it, and, as noted, used the media, mosques and schools now under his control to promote the objective of Israel’s destruction and encourage anti-Israel violence.
While these realities did not lead immediately to a dramatic change in Israeli public opinion, there was enough of a shift that polls soon began to show consistently the pro-Oslo government losing if elections were held. (Of course, it did in fact lose the next election, in May, 1996.)
Even a few within Israel’s elites – academics, journalists, writers and artists – who were Oslo’s most prominent promoters had second thoughts. For example, senior Haaretz columnist Ari Shavit wrote several years after the initial implementation of Oslo, “In the early ‘90s…. we, the enlightened Israelis, were infected with a messianic craze… All of a sudden, we believed that… the end of the old Middle East was near. The end of history, the end of wars, the end of the conflict… We fooled ourselves with illusions. We were bedazzled into committing a collective act of messianic drunkenness…”
But those prominent Israelis promoting the recent vote in parliament represent the many within Israel’s elites who – then, and in all the years since then – continued to cling to their “messianic drunkenness.”
Consider one among them, Yossi Sarid, a minister in the Oslo government. Despite all that Arafat was saying and doing to incite his people against Israel and promote terror, Sarid insisted that it was others who were the source of all the problems. He argued that Arafat was not acting in accord with his Oslo commitments because he had not yet been given enough by Israel to demonstrate to his people the benefits of Oslo and so did not have the public support to crack down on the terror or eschew incitement. Therefore, the proper Israeli response to the increased terror and to Arafat’s hate-mongering was to give him more concessions more quickly!
Within the general Israeli public, a much greater shift in opinion followed Arafat’s launching of his terror war after walking out of Camp David, and the subsequent tremendous increase in those murdered and maimed by Palestinian terror. If close to fifty percent of Israelis had earlier supported Oslo, that percentage fell substantially, with the academic, media and cultural elites remaining over-represented among the persistent true believers.
The rapid shift in public sentiment was reflected in Ariel Sharon’s landslide election victory in February, 2001, and in subsequent widespread unhappiness with Sharon’s holding back for many months from taking strong military steps to stop the terror. Even Chemi Shalev, very much a voice of the pro-Oslo Israeli Left, spoke in July, 2001, of Sharon’s “policy of restraint” and noted that it was “extremely unpopular in the Israeli public.” It was only after the monthly death toll of terror victims reached 133 in March, 2002, that Sharon ratcheted up the military response and approved sustained raids into Palestinian terrorist bastions.
But Yossi Sarid, in an op-ed in the New York Times in December, 2001, largely blamed Sharon for the violence and the absence of peace. His main criticism of Arafat was not that he had launched and was relentlessly pursuing his terror war against Israel or that he remained dedicated to the goal of Israel’s destruction but that Arafat “has foolishly played into Mr. Sharon’s hands.”
Sarid, and his like-minded fellow travelers, whenever faced with a choice between protecting Israelis or protecting and defending their own delusions, their wishful thinking that sufficient Israeli concessions would lead to a genuine peace, almost invariably choose, and promote, the latter. And so now they work to advance the Arafat-Abbas agenda for the phased destruction of the Jewish state, and cheer on and encourage European parliamentarians to actions pushing that agenda forward, parliamentarians who are often openly hostile to or at best indifferent to the Jewish state’s continued existence and well-being. Sarid and his associates’ doing so is just the latest display of their unending intoxication with the “messianic drunkenness” of the Oslo era.
Kenneth Levin is a psychiatrist and historian and author of The Oslo Syndrome: Delusions of a People under Siege.