The Play “Oslo” Perpetuates the Great Fantasy of Diplomacy

J.T. Rogers’s play Oslo—about the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations that took place in that city—had a run at Lincoln Center last summer and is scheduled to open on Broadway in the spring. While praising the acting and direction, Jonathan Tobin concludes that the play itself “fails as history,” most notably by ignoring the waves of terror and bloodshed that the Oslo Accords brought in their wake:

An intractable dispute resolved by sending negotiators to a remote setting and forcing them to work out their differences and realize their common humanity—this is one of the great fantasies of diplomacy. . . . [Thus the Norwegian sociologist Terje Rod-Larsen and his wife, the diplomat Mona Juul] became convinced that all that was needed to break the impasse [between Israel and the Palestinians] was for the two peoples fighting over one land to realize there was a viable and logical diplomatic solution available to them. But that option could work only if both parties set aside their fears and preconceptions about the other side and were willing to make reasonable compromises. Larsen also believed that throwing negotiators together on their own could lead to the building of personal relationships that would overcome the seemingly insurmountable difficulties. . . .

While Larsen was correct that under the right circumstances and with helpful nudges from a neutral party, a deal could be hashed out, a piece of paper is not the same thing as actually ending a conflict. . . . [By] the time of Rabin’s assassination in 1995, polls showed a majority of Israelis had thrown off their euphoria and now opposed the pact because they already understood that Larsen’s big idea had led to more bloodshed with little hope of the peace they had been promised. The events of the next few years would completely explode the Oslo concept and destroy the political fortunes of its Israeli advocates. . . .

Seen in that light, the playwright’s applause for Larsen, Juul, and their helpers seems historically illiterate. Like a play about Napoleon’s Hundred Days that ends with his triumphant re-entry to Paris in 1815 but leaves out the subsequent battle of Waterloo, the theatrical effort to crown Larsen as a successful hero of peace falls flat even if a line is tagged on at the end in which Juul wonders aloud whether what they did was for the best. . . . But for many Americans—especially liberal Jews who constitute the prime audience for Oslo—the history that followed Larsen’s triumph has been shoved down the memory hole and was ignored while it was happening.

Read more at Commentary

More about: Arts & Culture, Israel & Zionism, Oslo Accords, Peace Process, Theater

Israel Can’t Stake Its Fate on “Ironclad” Promises from Allies

Israeli tanks reportedly reached the center of the Gazan city of Rafah yesterday, suggesting that the campaign there is progressing swiftly. And despite repeatedly warning Jerusalem not to undertake an operation in Rafah, Washington has not indicated any displeasure, nor is it following through on its threat to withhold arms. Even after an IDF airstrike led to the deaths of Gazan civilians on Sunday night, the White House refrained from outright condemnation.

What caused this apparent American change of heart is unclear. But the temporary suspension of arms shipments, the threat of a complete embargo if Israel continued the war, and comments like the president’s assertion in February that the Israeli military response has been “over the top” all call into question the reliability of Joe Biden’s earlier promises of an “ironclad” commitment to Israel’s security. Douglas Feith and Ze’ev Jabotinsky write:

There’s a lesson here: the promises of foreign officials are never entirely trustworthy. Moreover, those officials cannot always be counted on to protect even their own country’s interests, let alone those of others.

Israelis, like Americans, often have excessive faith in the trustworthiness of promises from abroad. This applies to arms-control and peacekeeping arrangements, diplomatic accords, mutual-defense agreements, and membership in multilateral organizations. There can be value in such things—and countries do have interests in their reputations for reliability—but one should be realistic. Commitments from foreign powers are never “ironclad.”

Israel should, of course, maintain and cultivate connections with the United States and other powers. But Zionism is, in essence, about the Jewish people taking responsibility for their own fate.

Read more at JNS

More about: Israeli Security, Joseph Biden, U.S.-Israel relationship