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Jewish Journal

Have the Lessons of Oslo Been Forgotten?

by Morton A. Klein

August 21, 2003 | 8:00 pm

When the Oslo accords collapsed three years ago with the Palestinian Arabs' launching of mass violence against Israel, numerous American Jewish leaders publicly admitted that they had been wrong all along about Oslo -- wrong to believe the Palestinian Arabs wanted peace, wrong to ignore Palestinian Arab violations of the accords, such as anti-Jewish and anti-Israel incitement, and wrong to sit by silently as the U.S. pressured Israel to make more one-sided concessions.

Yet today, many American Jewish leaders are making that terrible mistake once again.

The words that disillusioned Jewish leaders wrote or spoke in late 2000 and early 2001 make for fascinating -- and tragic -- reading today.

The American Jewish Congress (AJCongress) took out a full-page ad in The New York Times (Nov. 12, 2000) headlined: "It takes a big organization to admit it was wrong." The text read, in part: "We were persuaded that despite [Yasser Arafat's] history of terrorism, he had chosen the path to peace. Perhaps we wanted to be persuaded."

Rabbi Eric Yoffie, then-president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC), said in his keynote address to the UAHC convention on June 1, 2001: "I have been wrong, and I believe our Reform movement has been wrong about a number of things. We misjudged Palestinian intentions and misread Palestinian society.... We did not pay nearly enough attention to the culture of hatred created and nourished by Palestinian leaders ... the growing use of anti-Semitic and neo-Nazi language in the Palestinian media."

Rabbi Martin Weiner, president of the Central Conference of American (Reform) Rabbis, put it this way: "Many of us who have supported the Oslo process for the last decade must admit to ourselves that the Palestinians really do not want peace..." (Jerusalem Post, March 7, 2002). His colleague, Rabbi Amiel Hirsch, director of the Association of Reform Zionists of America, was blunt: "I think there is reason to re-evaluate the underlying thesis of Oslo" (Forward, Oct. 13, 2000).

Leonard Cole, chairman of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, said that in order for there to be peace, there would have to be "a demonstrated effort by the Palestinians by way of what they teach their children, by way of the textbooks, the maps that are shown, that shows that they, too, are partners [for peace]." (Jerusalem Post, Oct. 27, 2000).

Yet, incredibly, many Jewish leaders are now making the exact same mistake about Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas that they made about Arafat. And now it's even worse -- because while Arafat publicly made commitments but did not fulfill them, Abbas says openly, "I have no intention to dismantle Hamas and Islamic Jihad" and declares that the PA police "will not go house to house in search of weapons."

Perhaps in another year or two, a major Jewish organization will take out yet another ad headlined, "It takes a big organization to admit it was wrong." But how many more Israelis will die in the meantime? How many more one-sided concessions will be squeezed out of Israel? How many more terrorists will Israel be pressured into setting free?

In 1993, Arafat insisted that he wanted to live in peace with Israel. Just like Abbas says today. When he signed the Oslo accords, Arafat pledged to stop all violence against Israel and, for a time, there was, indeed, a reduction in terrorist attacks, just as Abbas did for seven weeks before a bus exploded in Jerusalem on Tuesday, killing 20 and wounding about 100.

Arafat's words were pleasant sounding, like Abbas.' People "wanted to be persuaded," as the AJCongress newspaper ad put it. Today, too, people want to be persuaded. But to avoid repeating the mistakes of the Oslo years, we need to compare Abbas' words to Abbas' deeds.

Just like Arafat, Abbas is required to stop the vicious anti-Jewish and anti-Israel incitement that appears every day in the official P.A. media, school books, speeches and religious sermons. And just like Arafat, he refuses to stop it.

Just like Arafat, Abbas is required to treat Hamas and Islamic Jihad as terrorists, as enemies. And just like Arafat, he treats them as brothers and comrades, shelters them from Israeli arrest, demands that Israel free their imprisoned members, calls them "heroes" and "martyrs" and names streets and summer camps after them.

Ironically, while Jewish leaders and the Bush administration are championing Abbas as the "moderate" alternative to Arafat, Abbas makes it clear that he is as loyal to Arafat as ever.

Abbas co-founded the Fatah terrorist movement and was Arafat's second in command for 40 years. He has said he makes no decisions without Arafat's approval.

Abbas does not represent a "new" Palestinian Arab leadership, "not compromised by terror" -- the condition that President Bush set in his June 2002 speech but subsequently ignored. Abbas is a terrorist who is temporarily using diplomacy to gain territory, Western funding and, perhaps, even a sovereign state.

The only difference between Abbas and Arafat is the suit and the shave.

Morton A. Klein is the national president of the Zionist Organization of America.

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