How peace became a dirty word in the Middle East

PLO leader Yasser Arafat, US President Bill Clinton, and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzahk Rabin at the White House in Washington, DC, Sep 13, 1993. (photo: J. David Ake / AFP / Getty Images)
With the endless march of settlements and Israel’s continued impunity, a solution to the Israel-Palestine nightmare may seem impossible.

By Sandy Tolan | Counterpunch | Sep 14, 2018

[Oslo should be considered] an instrument of Palestinian surrender . . . . Clearly the PLO has transformed itself from a national liberation movement into a kind of small-town government. . . . What Israel has gotten is official Palestinian consent to continued occupation.
— Edward Said, professor of comparative literature at Columbia University

When I first traveled to Israel-Palestine in 1994, during the heady early days of the Oslo peace process, I was expecting to see more of the joyful celebrations I’d watched on television at home. The emotional welcoming of Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) Chairman Yasser Arafat back to Palestine. The massive demonstrations for peace on the streets of Tel Aviv. The spontaneous moment when Palestinians placed carnations in the gun barrels of departing Israeli soldiers. And though the early euphoria had already begun to ebb, clearly there was still hope.

It was the era of dialogue. Many Palestinians stood witness to Israeli trauma rooted in the Holocaust. Groups of Israelis began to understand the Nakba, or Catastrophe, when 750,000 Palestinians fled or were driven out of their homes during the creation of Israel in 1948. In the wake of the Oslo Declaration of Principles, signed on September 13, 1993 — a quarter of a century ago today — polls showed that large majorities of Israelis and Palestinians supported the agreement. Israelis, weary of a six-year Palestinian intifada, wanted Oslo to lead to lasting peace; Palestinians believed it would result in the creation of a free nation of their own, side by side with Israel.

“People thought this was the beginning of a new era,” says Salim Tamari, Palestinian sociologist and editor of the Jerusalem Quarterly.

“It was miraculous,” recalls Gershon Baskin, founder of the Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information, “a high peak of optimism and hope.” Baskin, an American who emigrated to Israel nearly 40 years ago, remembers the emotional power of “these two parties who refused to recognize each other’s right to exist coming into a room and breaking through that and putting down a formula which, at the time, looked reasonable.”

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