Axing the Oslo Accords Killed the Narrative, Not Just the Process

Observers were left with the conclusion that if the land “from the river and the sea” did not belong to two peoples, it belonged to one nation.

One of the more startling things about the current wave of pro-Palestinian demonstrations in the US and Europe is the extent to which they — perhaps unknowingly — echo the Hamas ideology as they chant, “From the River to the Sea, Palestine shall be free”.

The progressive-left position that seems to dominate these demonstrations is not that Israel should withdraw from the occupied territories, not a two-state solution, and not “land for peace”. It is the abolition of Israel and its replacement by what they see as Palestine.

How did this happen? It seems to have come as a total surprise to many observers, especially here in Israel (including myself). In my mind, it is an unintended consequence of the end of the Oslo peace process.

The Oslo Accords encapsulated a foundational narrative about Israel — it implicitly recognised that the Land of Israel, the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, belonged to two peoples, the Jews and the Palestinians. It was thought that dividing the land would be reasonable and fair and enable both peoples to realise their self-determination.

This, of course, was the long-standing Israeli position, having agreed to partition the land in 1937, 1947 and 1993. Until around 2015, the legitimacy of the State of Israel was taken for granted. Since 2015, though, it became increasingly evident that the right-wing Israeli government rejected and sought to vitiate the Oslo process and the Palestinian agency that was to partner with Israel in that process — the Palestinian Authority.

A consequence of terminating the Oslo process was that it also terminated the foundational narrative that accompanied it. Negating the Oslo peace process also rendered the “two peoples” narrative false.

Observers were left with the conclusion that if the land “from the river and the sea” did not belong to two peoples, it, therefore, belonged to one nation. Perhaps many on the Israeli right thought this would lead to Israel’s, and their own, benefit. That is, the world would somehow recognise that everything from the river to the sea belonged solely to the Jewish people.

Oslo Accords

The court of world opinion, though, seemed to think otherwise. If only one nation owned the land, then the Palestinians appeared to have a stronger case. They won the “indigenous brand”, the underdog conquered by military force. The Palestinians, too, strenuously erased their part in the 1948 war and replaced it with an “ethnic cleansing” narrative.

The Israeli right, ironically, abetted the Palestinian public relations victory. It never crystallised a strategy for ensuring the persuasiveness of their claim. It seemed to think that if they repeated it loudly and proudly enough, the world would buy it. To put things starkly, that world isn’t in a buying mood.

The Palestinians added cogency and depth to their claims by adopting an influential academic script on decolonisation. According to the decolonisation party line, all Israelis, even those with Tel Aviv pedigrees, are foreign colonial “settlers”.

Further, the colonial settler’s yoke is to be thrown off “by any means necessary,” as Frantz Fanon and Jean-Paul Sartre famously put it. The colonial entity is to be violently abolished and replaced by a native (meaning Palestinian) one.

Israel, of course, still has extensive support among the US and parts of the European public. However, the younger the age cohort, the more prevalent the decolonisation viewpoint that doesn’t serve the Palestinian people but only Hamas.

As the current wave of campus protests illustrates, it enjoys particular currency at elite institutions, whose students are likely to be in future economic and political positions of power.

The Israeli government and society must come to grips with the extent to which their own actions boost the effectiveness of their enemies’ narratives. This awareness, if it comes, must be an aspect of its strategic planning.