Israel | National

On Capitol Hill, a look back at Oslo and forward on peace process

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Conflicting voices for and against renewed Israeli-Palestinian peace talks came to Capitol Hill as leading pro- and anti-voices gathered to recall the nearly 20 years since the dramatic signing of the Oslo Accords.

The Oslo document, signed in Washington on Sept. 13, 1993, began the most ambitious push yet for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, left, shaking hands with PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat, with U.S. President Bill Clinton in the center at the Oslo Accords signing ceremony, Sept. 13, 1993. (Vince Musi / The White House)

“We can agree on one thing: Oslo is done, finished, kaput,” said Danny Danon, a Knesset member of the Likud Party. “We are all agreed, the ‘land for peace’ equation does not exist anymore.”

Danon spoke Thursday in a large room in the Longworth House Office Building during two panels sponsored by the International Israel Allies Caucus Foundation, or IIACF. The U.S. chapter of the group, which operates in 19 countries, was formed in 2006.

Danon joined Caroline Glick, deputy managing editor of The Jerusalem Post, and Ghaith al-Omari, executive director of the American Task Force on Palestine, for a panel on why the Oslo Accords failed. The panel was followed by a discussion on possible paths forward featuring former Rabbi Benny Elon, head of Israel’s right-wing National Religious Party; Yossi Beilin, an architect of the Oslo Accords; and Aaron David Miller, a former top adviser to the U.S. secretary of state.

Throughout the program, Congress members also offered comments to the audience of approximately 75 people. Speakers included U.S. Reps. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.), Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) and Brad Sherman (D-Calif.)

“If there is one issue we do work together on, it is the strong support of Israel,” Engel said. “We have to look at the situation as it is, not as we want it to be.”

More than 60 years since the founding of the State of Israel, the Palestinians “still can’t get the words out of their mouths” to recognize the Jewish state, he added.

Beilin said the Oslo Accords were designed as a five-year negotiating framework, and that had Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin not been assassinated in November 1995, “We would now have peace.”

Subsequent years have seen struggles to restart negotiations and rounds of violence, including a second Palestinian intifada and rockets from the Gaza Strip, with Israel taking major reprisal actions in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip.

Nonetheless, for Beilin the goal of Israel being a Jewish state with a strong democratic character and welcoming of all Jews is still paramount.

“My interest is not necessarily a Palestinian state,” he said. “All I want is a Jewish majority forever.”

Danon called for a three-state solution to include Egypt, Jordan and Israel.

“If you want to see a Palestinian state, just look at Gaza today,” he said. “We do not want to see a terrorist state in our backyard. The Israeli government has never approved any motion of a two-state solution.”

However, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on June 14, 2009 said during an address at Bar-Ilan University near Tel Aviv that Israel would agree to a Palestinian state were it demilitarized and if it recognized “Israel as the state of the Jewish people.”

For her part, Glick said that Oslo’s path of giving the Palestinians control of the West Bank was conducted under the “false premise” that it would make the conflict “immediately disappear and we would enter into a messianic era.”

Regardless, al-Omari said Oslo had lasting value as it was “a game changer” that established “mutual respect” and “a prerequisite to move forward.” He added, “We need to push for a way to get back to negotiations.”

But Elon, director of the IIACF, said during his remarks that there will be no progress until the Palestinians understand that the Jewish people “are back in Zion, back in Jerusalem.” Elon and other Israeli panelists agreed that the Palestinians also must stop glorifying violence, such as when they have named soccer fields and town squares in memory of terrorists.

“Their leaders have raised a generation of kids who value death,” Glick said. “Their highest aim in life is to become the people who want to kill my kids, your kids.”

Sitting in the audience, Rabbi Pesach Lerner, head of the National Council of Young Israel, referred to textbooks in Palestinian schools that teach hatred.

“In that environment of hate, how did we ever expect [Oslo] to work?” he asked.

Even if that issue was resolved, negotiations would not work, Danon said, because President Obama “came in to dictate,” he said. Danon called Obama “one-sided” on issues such as dealing with Palestinian refugees.

The stalemate, Miller said, has dangerous implications.

“Israel will keep their state for sure, but the Arabs and the Palestinians will not let them enjoy it,” said Miller, now a public policy fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

Despite the current situation, Miller said there should be continued economic development in the Palestinian areas, and that Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas should engage in discreet negotiations.