Almost 23 years after the Oslo Peace Accord was signed in September 1993, one of its architects and champions, Israeli statesman Shimon Peres, died at 93 years old in Jerusalem, Israel. As detailed in “Every Picture Tells a Story: Goodbye Peres,” the New York Times chose not to honor the Israeli leader, even as the paper repeatedly calls for a two-state solution for the Israeli-Arab Conflict.
So consider the NYT Op-Ed back on September 17, 1993, just after the Accords were signed and the major opinion makers weighed in on the agreement.
A.M. Rosenthal (1922-2006)
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize
A.M. Rosenthal wrote about the ‘Holocaust Syndrome“, where he lamented the pessimism coming from “Jews, Israeli and American” about the ultimate outcome of the Oslo agreement. Rosenthal was sad that it was becoming fashionable for Jews to echo sentiments that were most typically heard from Israel’s enemies.
The “Holocaust Theory” advanced a notion from “deep pessimism, fear and defensiveness arising out of the Holocaust. No matter how strong the country [Israel]became, they trusted no one, relied only on arms, saw themselves perpetually as victims who had to act defensively instead of a free people determining their own destiny.”
“To believe the Holocaust syndrome theory is to believe what Israel’s worst enemies say – that it was Israelis who brought a half-century of war between Jew and Arab.”
Rosenthal dismissed that idea completely. He reviewed the history that those “shtetl Jews were ready to share Palestine with Arabs from the beginning. The Arabs refused,” and launched pogroms and wars both from within Israel and without to destroy the Jewish State. Rosenthal had no patience for Jews that were cynical about the chance for peace:
“There is a mental malady that afflicts Israelis and other Jews but it is not the Holocaust syndrome. It is the tendency to confuse hope for the future with present reality….Israelis are not catatonically traumatized, curled up in a defensive ball seeing enemies everywhere. They can get up in the morning, work, raise families, make love, make peace or war, distinguish friend from foe and how to deal with each.”
“Pray for peace but add another prayer for truth upon which it depends.“
Amazing words that resonate today as much as they did when they were written.
Anthony Lewis (1927-2013)
Two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize
Anthony Lewis’s post was called “The Crux of the Deal,” and was optimistic about Oslo. He believed that each party’s self-interest would compel the parties forward.
For Palestinian Arabs, Lewis wrote that Arabs preventing terrorism would lead eventually to “establishing a Palestinian state.” Lewis was too optimistic.
The years after the 1993 Oslo Accords were followed by hundreds of terrorist attacks by Palestinian Arabs, and by the end of the interim Oslo II Accords in 2000, Yasir Arafat (fungus be upon him) rejected the contours of the Palestinian state and launched another war against Israel.
Lewis missed another point: that the Arab-Israel Conflict was key to stability in the Middle East.
Lewis wrote: “Success would be a key to reducing tensions in the entire Middle East, and reducing the threat of the two radical states that have denounced the agreement: Iran and Iraq.” Lewis could not foresee America’s toppling of Iraq – and then abandoning it – and the turmoil that would pour out of Syria, Yemen, Sudan and Libya.
The cause-and-effect theories of Lewis 23 years ago proved completely wrong:
- Israel has been able to prosper despite regional turmoil. It has done so by focusing on building businesses and technology surrounded by its strong defenses
- It was Palestinian leaders self-interest that has dictated events and marred the prospects of peace, as they enriched themselves, maintained their “lofty” titles and avoided confrontations with fellow Arabs in the cause of peace
Self-interest may indeed be a motivator for all players in the region. However, it would appear that Lewis was too optimistic about Palestinian Arab leadership caring more about their constituents than themselves.
Alexander Schindler (1925-2000)
Leader of the Reform Judaism Movement
Alexander Schindler described himself as “an unreconstructed dove,” in his editorial “Memo to a Hawk.” He relayed how he was worried about Likud leader Menahem Begin coming to power in 1977 and what he would do to the chances of peace. But Schindler gave Begin a chance “and he did not disappoint.” Schindler urged politically conservative Jews to give Yitzhak Rabin and the Oslo Accord that same chance.
Schindler argued that that moment in history – 1993 – was the best time to advance peace in the region:
“It is now that the American Government’s role as guarantor of the peace is unaffected by cold war concerns. It is now that the Arab powers understand that the real threat they face is not the steady achievements of Zionism but the rampaging golem of Islamic fundamentalism. It is now that the influx of Jews to Israel from the former Soviet Union has upset the demographic contest the Palestinians had expected to win.”
Schindler gets an interesting score on predicting the future.
- Total Miss: In 2016, the cold war is very much alive and affecting the region, as Russia takes an active role in Syria, with missiles and migrants flowing out of the region unabated.
- Spot on: Many people did not appreciate the threat of the “rampaging golem of Islamic fundamentalism” until 9/11/2001, but Schindler did.
- Mixed: the demographic time bomb that Yasir Arafat hoped to use to conquer Israel is still believed in some corners, and dismissed in others.
The dreamer of peace believed in the peace process, and understood the threat of Islamic fundamentalism. However he never considered his logic that Islamic fundamentalism existed everywhere else in the Middle East except among Palestinian Arabs.
In 2016, on the eve of the Jewish New Year, world leaders came to pay their respects to a leader of the Israeli people, and a man devoted to the Oslo peace process. As people consider Peres’s legacy over the past 70 years in public service and his persistent optimism that peace would come to the region, review the caution and optimism at the dawn of the peace process launched in Oslo, and where we are today.
For the New York Times, the lack of peace between Israel and Palestinian Arabs has nothing to do with Islamic fundamentalism, the cold war, the influx of Russian Jews, the corrupt Palestinian Arab leadership or the civil wars raging in the region. For the Times and many liberal Jews, it continues to be a hawkish Israeli government that continues to repeat the “Holocaust Syndrome.”
Perhaps it is time for everyone to re-read the prescient words and warning of A.M. Rosenthal: beware the “mental malady that afflicts Israelis and other Jews but it is not the Holocaust syndrome. It is the tendency to confuse hope for the future with present reality….Pray for peace but add another prayer for truth upon which it depends.”
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