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Jewish World Review Sept. 4, 2001 / 15 Elul, 5761

Jonathan Tobin

Jonathan Tobin
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The Price of Euphoria

Oslo helped disarm Israel and legitimize a terrorist regime. -- ON Sept. 13, 1993, history was supposed to have changed irrevocably. On that day, in a stage-managed photo opportunity, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin shook hands with Palestine Liberation Organization chief Yasser Arafat on the lawn of the White House while President Bill Clinton beamed in appreciation.

Studying the famous picture of that event today, it's hard not to wince as we see the the skeptical Rabin lean forward reluctantly to take the hand of a murderer who looks like the proverbial cat who ate the canary. As Clinton is fond of retelling, Rabin insisted that there be no kissing, and the president prevailed upon Arafat to not wear a sidearm along with his military uniform.

On such insignificant victories do the glowing memories of that day rest. At the time, newspapers were filled with the tearful quotes of those who believed the signing signaled the end of the Arab-Israeli conflict. American left-wing peace activists triumphantly embraced PLO leaders at parties as they congratulated each other on their victory.

Few, other than recalcitrant right-wingers, had any doubts that the peace would be permanent. Shimon Peres, then, as now, Israel's foreign minister, airily dismissed the doubters. And Israeli spokesmen were quick to point out that Israel could rescind any of its Oslo concessions if the Palestinians failed to keep their word.

One cynic was current Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who termed Arafat a "war criminal" in an opinion-page article in the Jewish Exponent on Sept. 17, 1993. Sharon termed the voluntary empowerment of Arafat "an act of madness."

Several hundred Jewish dead later, the current prime minister looks to have been the smart one. Israel gambled a great deal in signing Oslo, but it's only recently that most Jews have awakened to the cost of just how much was thrown away in the historic blunder created by Oslo euphoria.

The Palestinian Authority created by Oslo reneged on its obligation to promote peace and stop terrorism. It has become exactly what the supporters of the accords said it would not be: an irredentist terrorist state whose heavily armed police work with heavily armed Islamic terrorist groups to attack Israelis. Instead of a peace partner, Israel finds itself alongside a junta run by terrorists.

But along with all the dead and maimed from countless post-Oslo Arab terror attacks, Israel has lost something else: the ability to call its enemies by their right names.

Oslo didn't just give Arafat political and financial power; it also ennobled him with a fake moral legitimacy that he had not earned. Nor would it be justified by his subsequent conduct. And just like the territory that Israel gave up, this gift (as well as Arafat's comical Nobel Peace Prize) is not easily taken back.

Years of cheerleading for a dead-end peace process by Israeli spokespeople and American Jewish organizations did not bring peace. But it did help encourage major media outlets to treat Arafat like a respected world leader. Media elites in this country increasingly slipped into a position that saw both Israel and the Palestinians as moral equals. The "peace education" so heavily promoted in Israel (and ignored by the Palestinians) worked to convince many Jews, as well as the media, that the Palestinian cause - and all that came with it - was just.

As it turns out, this moral disarmament by Israel and its supporters had consequences that could be as serious as the more tangible retreats on issues like Jerusalem and settlements in the territories.

The dilemma is illustrated by the problems encountered by the readers of one of America's leading dailies, The Philadelphia Inquirer. Though pro-Israel media critics have bashed the paper regularly for years for what they perceive as a tradition of bias, the Inqy watch has taken an even more serious turn lately.

After it published a vicious diatribe by self-styled satirist Jerry Long that questioned the legitimacy of Israel and Zionism , the paper was bitterly criticized by the local Jewish community.

But its editors could defend themselves by pointing to an even greater outcry -- this time from pro-Palestinian readers -- that occurred the following week, when they published a pro-Israel piece by JWR columnist Michael Kelly urging Israel to step up its counterattacks against the terrorists.

Employing the old "both sides attacked me so that proves I'm fair" defense, the Inquirer seemed to conclude that it had nothing to apologize for in the Long incident. The idea that the reasoned prose of Kelly was as incendiary as that of Long is preposterous, but it sums up the unfair standards now applied to the Jewish nation.

On Tuesday, this stance of moral equivalence was further emphasized by cartoonist Don Wright of the Palm Beach Post, who penned an illustration publishedin the Inquirer claiming that the Koran didn't justify suicide bombers any more than the Torah justified "assassination of Palestinians." In fact, Wright had it all wrong. The Torah explicitly does sanction self-defense against murderers.

But infuriating as that cartoon may be to fair-minded persons, it must be recognized for what it symbolizes: the widespread belie

f that Israel is no better than the terrorists who still seek to destroy it. That notion wasn't created by anti-Semites. It was created and defended by those who brought us Oslo.

There are those who still defend Oslo as a good idea since, they claim, it eventually proved Arafat's unwillingness to make peace. They have a point. But unfortunately, the peace re-education process of the last eight years was so successful that it is now impossible for many people to go back to the pre-Oslo assumptions they had about Arafat, no matter what he or his minions do.

As we observe the eighth anniversary of the signing of the peace accords, many of us will burn with anger about Arafat's deceptions and the way Israel has been misrepresented in the media. But save a little anger for another target. Remember the naivete and the foolishness that dominated the Jewish world eight years ago, and realize that, sadly, we were our own worst enemies.

JWR contributor Jonathan S. Tobin is executive editor of the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent. Let him know what you think by clicking here.

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