Israeli & Palestinian delegation meet in Cairo 1993 (Source: HBO - Capture)

The recent unsealing of the cabinet meeting minutes concerning the Oslo Accords illuminates the precarious intricacies that have long defined the initiative’s impact on Israel's political and security landscape. Now, three decades after the Accords were formalized, these once-confidential records provide invaluable insights into the internal decision-making process and its far-reaching consequences. These documents are not merely a treasure trove for scholars and historians; they constitute crucial reading material for Israeli citizens and the global Jewish community, given their revelatory nature concerning the trajectory of Israel’s geopolitical stance.

Let's pause to consider a troubling question: why did it take thirty years for these minutes to become public? A plausible theory posits that even the architects of this initiative were aware of its potentially damaging repercussions. Under the stewardship of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli government essentially conferred legitimacy upon the Palestinian Authority. In doing so, it inadvertently handed over a platform that has since been weaponized to consistently and systematically degrade Israel's international reputation and compromise its security.

To assess the wisdom—or palpable lack thereof—of the Accords, it is instructive to refer to Barbara Tuchman's seminal work, "The March of Folly," which offers a rubric for understanding the anatomy of political failures. Tuchman identifies three criteria that must be met for a policy to be considered a ‘folly’: firstly, the ill effects of the policy should be foreseeable; secondly, alternative avenues should be available; and thirdly, the policy must persist over time, buoyed by the support of more than a mere individual or isolated administration. The Oslo Accords uncomfortably satisfy these conditions, thereby firmly ensconcing themselves in the unfortunate chronicles of unwise statecraft.

The perils associated with the Oslo Accords were not latent, obscure caveats that only became apparent in retrospect. Rather, they were glaringly evident before the ink had even dried on the agreement. These were not nuances overlooked in a complex document; they were glaring weaknesses recognized by those who were most deeply involved in the process, including Prime Minister Rabin and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres. Contrary to what one might assume, alternative paths were not relegated to the domain of academic debate or hypothetical musings. There existed substantive, viable options that could have been embraced had the decision-makers been willing to entertain them.

What makes this situation more distressing is the near-absence of substantive ministerial input during the formulation of the Accords. The minutes reveal a concerning sidelining of key figures like Aryeh Deri, the then Minister of the Interior. This highlights the fact that for Rabin and Peres, the Accords were essentially fait accompli, requiring only perfunctory approval from the cabinet. Such an approach is strikingly at odds with modern norms advocating for widespread consultation on matters of profound national importance. It is crucial to note though, that Rabin was reluctant to forge ahead with this, he seemingly saw the outcome and yet, as a statesman still forged ahead with it. It would be Peres though, the one who never had a military background, who would be the cheerleader of the accords and work to bend over backwards to appease the Palestinians after Rabin was assassinated.

The rush to forge an agreement also disenfranchised vital stakeholders, notably the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). Ehud Barak, then the Chief of Staff, had reservations but couched them diplomatically—perhaps in a futile effort to not dampen the prematurely celebratory atmosphere surrounding the Accords. The ramifications were devastatingly crystallized years later when Barak, serving as Prime Minister, witnessed the direct consequences of this flawed policy.

Politicians like Yossi Sharid and Yair Tsavan, meanwhile, were ensnared in debates over settler violence, seemingly tone-deaf to the crescendo of protests that signified the nation’s collective misgivings. Their insularity would eventually be shattered by the harsh realities that unfolded on the ground.

One need not possess Barbara Tuchman’s literary finesse to discern the monumental folly encapsulated in the Oslo Accords. The newly disclosed cabinet minutes serve as a sobering testament to a series of miscalculations that have had enduring implications. In the precarious theatre of Middle Eastern geopolitics, where the margin for error is vanishingly small, the Oslo Accords stand as a grim tutorial—a cautionary tale on how not to navigate the complex labyrinth of international relations when existential stakes loom large.

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