Jewish Political Studies Review 18:1-2 (Spring 2006)
The Oslo War
La Guerre d’Oslo, by Joel Fishman and Efraim Karsh, Editions de Passy, 257 pp. (French)
Reviewed by Nelly Sayagh
In La Guerre d’Oslo (The Oslo War), Joel Fishman and Efraim Karsh have written an indispensable book. On first impression its title sounds provocative, but to the extent that the authors reveal the reality of the “Oslo process,” it is accurate. Far from arbitrarily presenting a theory, Fishman and Karsh, both researchers and historians, explain and prove their interpretations by using hard evidence, and reach important conclusions. They have shown that for the cynical Palestinian leadership, what diplomats and most of Western public opinion wishfully described as the “peace process” represented nothing more than an opportunity to wage war within the framework of “protracted conflict.” This leadership has followed a previously articulated strategy and implemented it over the past four decades with determination and coherence, despite, or rather because of, the appearance they projected.
A Will to Be Misled
In the first section, Karsh recalls a series of events that are almost totally unknown and yet establish that during the “Oslo process,” the Palestinian leadership never deviated from the strategic goal of destroying the Jewish state by stages. Their method was to acquire more and more territory while demanding the “right of return” for all Palestinian refugees and their descendants. Karsh also explains how Yasser Arafat and his allies duped the West, skillfully using tactical ruses with which the Western mind is ill-suited to cope such as duplicity, inconsistency, “big lies,” deliberate violations of agreements, the constant escalation of often unrealistic claims, and terrorism. The fact that, despite great Western pressure and Arafat’s empty public declarations, the Palestinian Covenant has never been properly abrogated, which would have meant Palestinian recognition of Israel’s right to exist, is a prime example of this type of double dealing.
Karsh also reveals how and why the Israeli leadership as well as a large part of the population chose to be misled by the enemy and “preferred” progress that was actually retreat, with history moving in a direction that was completely different from their professed goal of “living in peace and security in a Jewish state.” The dream of peace so possessed the Israeli negotiators that they resorted to all manner of rationalizations to explain deeply disturbing events. In a flight from reality, a negotiating “process” with a “partner” became an end in itself, a poor substitute for defining clear goals at the outset and making sure the results would conform to them.
Understanding the “People’s War”
In the second section, Fishman draws on a diverse range of sources, including historians, witnesses, and strategists as well as the experience of other countries. He warns of the disastrous consequences of failing to grasp the true intentions and strategy of an adversary who has taken the guise of partner for peace. He also explains how cultural, ideological, and circumstantial factors influenced the protagonists of the Oslo process, distorting their perception of reality and determining certain patterns of irrational behavior.
Accordingly, the Israeli ruling elite, imbued with a secular Communist ideology, pursued an ideal of peace that was almost messianic in purporting to solve the problems of Israel, the Jewish people and, by implication, the world. This group tried to craft Israel’s future artificially, turning its back on the lessons of history. Similarly, the desire of certain Diaspora Jews to win the acceptance of their Gentile peers distorted their perception of the roles and responsibilities of Palestinians and Israelis.
One of Fishman’s most interesting findings concerns the operative methods of the “people’s war,” which the Palestinians learned from Communist movements elsewhere, particularly that of North Vietnam, and adapted to their own war against Israel. While claiming to participate in the peace process, the other side perpetrated acts of terror whenever it wanted to force more concessions from Israel. It also used Judeophobic images, libels, and slogans such as “Zionism is racism.”
Fishman emphasizes Israel’s need to learn the characteristics of these methods so as to respond appropriately. Indeed, it is difficult to grasp the tactics of this asymmetrical warfare, whose strategic goal is Israel’s destruction, because they are carried out surreptitiously over a long period of time in a manner completely different from conventional warfare. Nevertheless, their effects are equally devastating, eroding Israeli society’s resilience by demoralizing it psychologically, sabotaging it economically, dividing it into two opposing camps, and delegitimizing it abroad.
Certain leading experts have corroborated the main conclusions of La Guerre d’Oslo. For example, in The Oslo Syndrome psychoanalyst and historian Kenneth Levin examines the pathology that has driven certain Israelis and American diplomats to believe-despite the contradictory facts-in Arafat’s false promises of peace and, at present, in those of his former right-hand man Mahmoud Abbas. Lieutenant Colonel Thomas X. Hammes (U.S. Marine Corps), author of The Sling and the Stone: On War in the Twenty-First Century, confirms the danger represented by “people’s war,” or “fourth-generation war” as he terms it, which has been used not only by the Palestinian Authority but also by al Qaeda and other Islamic groups.
One may criticize Fishman and Karsh for providing few explanations for the success of the Palestinian cause on the international stage, being occasionally severe toward the Israeli architects of the Oslo process, and offering few solutions for achieving peace with the Palestinians. Nevertheless, the authors have convincingly shown why the title La Guerre d’Oslo is appropriate. This book is an indispensable tool for deciphering what is commonly known as the “Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”