Tuesday, September 23, 2003

Apropos the splendiferous festivities on the wondrous occasion of Shimon Peres' eightieth birthday, for which I paid but wasn't on the guest list:

Things are far worse now than they were before the Oslo Accords, for us and for the Palestinians. I am saying this as one who was once a staunch supporter of these accords. Things are not worse because terrorism takes its daily toll on ordinary Israelis and because life for the Palestinians is unbearable in the shadow of the Israeli tanks. Things are worse because where there was once hope for a better future for Israelis and the Palestinians living here alongside us, now there is none.

My belief in Oslo was based on my personal acquaintance with some of these local Palestinians. They wanted a bit of what we had. They wanted to be able to run their lives themselves. I wanted it for them too. So did most of my friends. But it never happened. What happened was that for various inner-Palestinian political reasons they couldn't accept a leadership other than that of Arafat and his cronies. And they got it. Some of them said, quietly, that what they got was far worse than what they had before. Israeli rule was exchanged for the rule of Palestinians who came from without ("Tunisians"), foreigners who knew nothing of Israel and the life the local Palestinians had been watching and wanted a piece of. They enforced their rule over the local Palestinians brutally. Their torture chambers made Israel's prisons seem like summer camps. Furthermore, they saw no need to learn from Israel's example of proper administration. And most of all, they hadn't internalized what the local Palestinians had: That Israel and the Israelis weren't going anywhere, and it would be better to get along with them and compromise, compromise.

They came, these outsiders, and commenced poisoning the few sweet water wells that they found. Palestinian society is a young society, and children are more susceptible to indoctrination. An old-new hope was fuelled, a completely unrealistic but very compelling and seductive hope, not of coexistence and peace with Israel, but of ridding this land of its usurpers.

Yes, I know, the failure of Oslo was not one sided. Israel wasn't lilywhite, either. But while support for a Palestinian state among regular Israelis increased steadily all through the Oslo years, with many of my right-wing friends, formerly opposed to Oslo, voting for Ehud Barak and his left-wing government in 1999, Palestinian leadership was just as steadily instilling among regular Palestinians the belief that Israel was weak and destructible.

It is a rather dreamlike belief of some in Israel that the deportation of Arafat, a completely justified action given that he broke every promise and agreement he made in order to get in, but maybe not very wise, will somehow turn back the wheel and obliterate the adverse results of Oslo. It won't, of course. The wells have been poisoned, their water no longer fit for human consumption. It will take years and years for the water in them to be clear and sweet again, if ever.

For the same reason, Israelis, who believe that talks can begin again where they stopped as if nothing has happened during the last three years, are just as deluded.

So I don't mind that I wasn't invited to Shimon Peres' egotistic celebrations. I wouldn't have gone even if I had been the guest of honor. His wonderful vision of the New Middle East, which I still yearn for, is further away than ever.

I still believe in compromise, compromise, but never in suicide, suicide.