Support for the Oslo peace accord’s principles at all-time low

When the first Oslo Accord was signed 25 years ago, and the second two years later, the Israeli Right filled the streets in mass demonstrations protesting the decisions of then-prime minister Yitzhak Rabin’s government.

The protesters in 1993 complained that the narrow coalition of the 62 MKs of Labor, Meretz, and Shas that Rabin formed could not make such monumental decisions for Israel’s future, and certainly not the minority coalition that relied on Arab parties after Shas quit. The protesters against both accords questioned whether corruption was involved in their passage.

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Shas granted legitimacy to the first Oslo Accord by abstaining on it and enabling its passage. The accord was first presented to the cabinet the day Shas leader Arye Deri resigned from the same interior minister job he holds now, not due to Oslo but due to the bribery charges that landed him in jail six years later.

There was speculation at the time that Labor got Deri’s trial postponed in return for his party’s not stopping Oslo. In a no-confidence motion brought to the Knesset on September 23, 1993, after the historic signing ceremony on the White House lawn, 61 MKs voted in favor of Rabin’s government, with 50 against and eight abstentions. Shas’s six MKs abstained and five MKs from Arab parties voted in favor.

The second Oslo Accord was even more controversial, passing 61 to 59 on October 6, 1995, thanks to the vote of Gonen Segev, who left the right-wing Tzomet Party for a cabinet post. Since then, Segev has been convicted of smuggling ecstasy pills, credit card fraud and attempting to receive benefits fraudulently and apprehended for allegedly spying for Iran.

LOOKING BACK 25 years after the signing ceremony and demonstrations, there is no doubt who won the intense political battle over the accords, and it was not those who signed them with such great fanfare alongside US president Bill Clinton and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

The participants in those demonstrations are now in power, and the Likud has led Israel for 17 of those 25 years. Moshe Feiglin, the organizer of protests drenched by water cannons, became an MK and deputy Knesset speaker.

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In a turn of events that would have been seen as unthinkable 25 years ago, Benjamin Netanyahu, the opposition leader who campaigned against the Oslo Accords but then reluctantly implemented them, could soon pass up David Ben-Gurion as Israel’s longest-serving prime minister.

The wave of Palestinian terrorism brought on by the accords, the encouragement of that terrorism by the Palestinian leadership and the failure of mediation by presidents from both American parties have shifted Israelis further and further to the Right.

There is currently no majority for the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the polls of the two institutions that have been monitoring Israeli public opinion on the issue the longest, the Israel Democracy Institute and the Tami Steinmetz Center for Peace Research (and before that the Institute for National Security Studies) at Tel Aviv University.

A poll presented by the Steinmetz Center’s Dr. Dahlia Scheindlin last month found that 49% of Israelis, including just 43% of Jews, currently back a Palestinian state, far less than the 71% of Israelis who backed the two-state solution at the peak of that support shown in Scheindlin’s data in 2010.

Scheindlin and her Palestinian pollster colleague, Dr. Khalil Shikaki of the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in Ramallah, said their numbers found “the lowest [backing for the two-state solution] in almost two decades of joint Palestinian-Israeli survey research.”

Together with Tel Aviv University, the IDI started asking about Oslo’s paradigm of a two-state solution in its monthly Peace Index in December 1999. In that poll, two-thirds of Israelis backed the creation of a Palestinian state.

According to IDI, a whopping 72.8% backed the two-state solution in a June 2007 Peace Index poll, just ahead of when then-prime minister Ehud Olmert would meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas more than 100 times in a year in a very serious but unsuccessful effort to reach an agreement.

Last week, when the Peace Index asked “Do you support or not support at present the signing of a peace agreement based on the formula of two states for two peoples?” – only 47% of Israeli Jews said yes, and 46% said no.

Scheindlin said she attributed the fall in support for the Oslo paradigm over the last eight years to the failure of Olmert’s peace process, the rise of Netanyahu, and the impact of three wars in the Gaza Strip. She said there has been “a slow incremental decline in support on both sides with remarkable parallelism” since 2010.

“Every war, people’s hard-line attitudes go up,” she said. “Support for a two-state solution became normalized in Israeli public opinion way too late. By the time it was normalized, the window for political achievement of that solution and physical possibilities for implementing it was on the verge of closing.”

She said she still thinks Netanyahu and Abbas could bring their peoples to an agreement if they showed leadership, but there is not enough support among the peoples to get there on their own.

But current polls show the Right winning the next election in 2019 by a landslide and no serious challenger for the premiership on the Israeli Center-Left. And even if an Israeli leader did emerge who would promote the principles of Oslo, the legitimacy of a narrow majority would be questioned by protests in the streets.

Oslo’s ultimate impact on Israeli politics was the empowering of its protesters, a far different impact than its organizers foresaw a quarter-century ago.

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