Tsvi Bisk – Madrid/Oslo Has Been Good For the Jews
And is a Good Model for the Future
The architects of the Oslo Accords have been branded “Oslo Criminals” by Israel’s political right because of subsequent Palestinian terror and numerous Israeli causalities.
But the historic success or failure of political initiatives cannot be determined by casualties alone. In Israel’s War of Independence 6,000 Israelis were killed and tens of thousands wounded (out of a population of only 600,000). In the six years following the 6-Day War, 247 Israelis were killed in terror attacks. In the six years following the Oslo Accords, 270 Israelis were killed (out of a population double that of the post 6-Day War period). And in the six years following the collapse of the peace process after the 2000 Camp David Summit, 1083 Israelis were killed. What were the failures and what were the successes?
The Oslo Accords have actually been the third momentous grand-strategic achievement of the Zionist project since the Balfour Declaration. The first was the establishment of Israel in 1948, which provided the Jewish People with self-defense agency for the first time in 2,000 years. The second was the peace with Egypt, which eliminated Israel’s immediate existential threat and set the stage for future pan-Arab pragmatism towards Israel. Without the peace with Egypt there is no peace process with the Palestinians, the Jordanians or any other Arab country.
The Madrid/Oslo Process is the third achievement. The Madrid Conference in 1991 was the incubator for Oslo and should be seen as the same historical event. Major positive developments began with Madrid.
- The Soviet Union re-established diplomatic relations with Israel two weeks before the conference in order to participate. Its successor, the Russian Federation, upgraded the relationship which facilitated the immigration of over one million Russian Jews to Israel.
- In January 1992, China and India established formal diplomatic relations with Israel. The economic implications have been enormous. East Asia is now Israel’s second biggest trading partner after the European Union, having surpassed the United States. In 1991, Israeli exports to Asia had decreased by 4.1%, but following Madrid they increased by 52% in 1992, 49.6% in 1993, 25.8% in 1994, and 24.4% in 1995, and so on. Subsequent economic dynamism enabled Israel to absorb one million Russian immigrants. The engineering and scientific skills of these immigrants made a significant contribution to Israel becoming Startup Nation.
- 71 countries established diplomatic relations with Israel between 1991 and 2000. These included 30 African countries and six non-Arab Muslim states – Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
- The Vatican established relations with Israel in 1993 – an historic political and theological about-face.
- Israeli trade offices were opened in Morocco, Oman and Qatar, and the Gulf States canceled the Arab Boycott in 1994. The Boycott had cost Israel’s economy 40 billion dollars (80 billion in today’s money). The wave of foreign investment that followed Madrid/Oslo can be partly attributed to this development.
- Peace with Jordan was formalized in 1994; the second Arab League member to take this step. This had significant supplementary diplomatic impact. How many of the 71 countries mentioned above decided on the basis of “well if another member of the Arab League and former enemy of Israel establishes relations why shouldn’t we?” The Egyptian case might have been seen as an anomaly, but peace with Jordan put the finishing touches on the normalization process.
- The peace process facilitated the upgrading of Israel’s free trade agreement with the European Union improving Israel’s competitiveness in EU markets. Despite subsequent political animosity, trade and scientific cooperation have gone from strength to strength.
- During the Madrid/Oslo decade, Israel’s population increased by 35% from 4.7 million to 6.3 million. A trickle before the 1990s, foreign investments became a flood. Foreign exchange reserves increased appreciably. The foreign debt ratio declined from 25% of GDP to 9%.
- Other, achievements included revocation of the “Zionism is Racism” UN Resolution and Israeli sports being accepted into European sports associations.
- And we have just learned that Israel’s relationship with the United Arab Emirates began as a result of the Oslo accords which have now culminated into open recognition – to be followed by other Gulf States.
The decade of the 90s was one of the most significant in the history of the Zionist Project due to Madrid/Oslo. Our economy was transformed; our social, cultural and political potential greatly enhanced. Many countries were already looking for a good excuse to establish relations, but the process gave them that excuse, especially African countries and India and China. The process also gave Jordan the incentive to formalize their de-facto relations (worried as they were about the Palestinians outflanking them).
How many Arab League counties, in addition to the UAE, are presently primed for a good excuse to enter into formal diplomatic relations with Israel, given the Iranian threat? The latest Saudi peace initiative and increasing de facto security cooperation vis-à-vis Iran indicates many. Even Bibi has boasted about our de-facto relations, even though these have been, to a large degree, a result of the same Oslo accords he has so virulently attacked and which have led to the present deal with the UAE that he is taking all the credit for.
An alternative to the present impasse with the Palestinians would be for Israel to propose a policy that quiets things down while putting us in a favorable light. The unwillingness of the Palestinians to accept Ehud Barak’s offers at Camp David in 2000 and their subsequent rejection of even more generous offers by Ehud Olmert indicate that the “great deal” that President Trump dreams about is simply wishful thinking on a par with the wishful think of Shimon Peres. Let’s face the facts; there is no symmetry in the dispute. The Palestinians hate us more then they love themselves and we love ourselves more than we hate them. We are willing to compromise on things sacred to us and take calculated risks for the sake of peace; they are not willing to compromise on anything, even for the creation of the state they claim they want. I am convinced that faced with the choice of having a state or destroying Israel they would choose to destroy Israel and forego the state.
Therefore we must initiate realistic steps. Consider the following. Let’s readjust the distribution of the three areas designated in the West Bank and sell it as Phase One in the overall search for peace:
Area A – presently 18% of West Bank is under full civil and security control of the Palestinian Authority.
Area B – presently 22% of West Bank is under joint Israeli-Palestinian security control.
Area C – presently 60% of West Bank is under full Israeli civil and security control
Areas A and B contain about 2.5 million Palestinians and no Jews, while Area C contains another 300,000 Palestinians as well as 300,000 Jews. I believe the vast majority of us can agree that Israel has no long term ambitions in either Areas A or B; this gives us substantial flexibility and room to maneuver.
Taking from Area B Israel might offer to expand Area A to consist of 30% of the West Bank in exchange for formal diplomatic relations with several additional Arab countries (this might even provide Saudi Arabia with an ‘excuse’ to follow the example of the UAE). Taking from Area B again, we could expand Area A to 40% of the West Bank in exchange for normalization with several more Arab countries. Area B would cease to exist. Regarding the future of Area C we might adopt the same tactic as our nuclear program – ambiguity.
The aim should be to make Area A as contiguous as possible and thus reduce the number of Palestinians that Israeli security forces interact with daily. This would lessen tensions as well as have international PR benefits. The grand-strategic achievements would be:
- Full diplomatic relations with half the countries in the Arab League
- Liberation from managing a massive hostile population
- Neutralizing BDS and UN hostility for several years; probably at the most for 3-4 years, given the underlying anti-Semitism of that hostility. But that is still something as we always make greater advances than our adversaries in periods of relative calm.
- Stimulating more foreign investment into Israel. Perhaps even including Gulf businesses and sovereign wealth funds.
- Strategic upgrading of Israel’s ability to deal with the last threat to its very existence – Iran. The deal with the UAE certainly has increased that ability already.
I do not underestimate the operational and tactical difficulties these readjustments would present to the IDF. They would be substantial, but certainly no greater than the evacuation of the Sinai; the price we paid for normalization with Egypt. In any case, strategic and grand-strategic benefits must always supersede operational and tactical challenges, while guarding against the naïve optimism which accompanied Oslo, and made us unprepared for the terrorist onslaught that ensued.
Israel enjoyed a PR honeymoon during the Madrid/Oslo decade. Its status in international organizations improved. There was a decline in the number of UN debates and resolutions pertaining to Israel. Israelis were elected to positions in United Nations organizations and agencies. This honeymoon ended following the Second Intifada. But it is an instructive example of how any peace process is a more effective weapon against the likes of BDS than full page ads and hysterical whining. It is, indeed, the only rational way forward, not wet dreams about peace with the Palestinians.
Tsvi Bisk’s most recent book is The Suicide of the Jews