Oslo op­ti­mism is now well and truly dead

The Jewish Chronicle - - NEWS - BY STEPHEN POLLARD

THE CO­IN­CI­DENCE was un­in­ten­tional, but a few days after re­turn­ing from Jerusalem last week I saw the (won­der­ful) new pro­duc­tion of Oslo at the Na­tional Theatre.

It might sound de­cid­edly unthe­atri­cal: a blow-by-blow ac­count of the ori­gins and de­vel­op­ment of the Oslo peace process in 1993. But in the hands of play­wright JT Rogers, it is three hours of riv­et­ing drama. And it is far more than that. I con­fess that as we reached the de­noue­ment, with footage of Rabin and Arafat at the White House, some tears ran down my cheeks. The prom­ise of peace turned out to be naïve non­sense — and a lie, as the Pales­tini­ans re­fused to honour the ac­cords and an Is­raeli ex­trem­ist mur­dered Rabin.

As the lead char­ac­ter puts it in Michael Frayn’s won­der­ful film, Clock­wise: “It’s not the de­spair… I can take the de­spair. It’s the hope I can’t stand.”

Here we are now, over two decades later, and the hope and op­ti­mism for any sort of se­ri­ous path to peace is well and truly dead.

I’m not even talk­ing about grand schemes — deals bro­kered by su­per­pow­ers, or fa­cil­i­tated by the likes of Nor­way. I mean just the mod­est, prac­ti­cal day-to-day steps to­wards peace­ful co-ex­is­tence cham­pi­oned by Pales­tini­ans such as Salam Fayyad, the for­mer Prime Min­is­ter of the Pales­tinian Author­ity, whose ap­proach was fa­tally un­der­mined by his own sup­posed col­leagues — and so would have failed even had he found a more re­cep­tive Is­raeli response.

Oslo is poignant enough on those terms, as a re­minder of what we once thought might be pos­si­ble, without A dra­matic scene from the Na­tional Theatre’s pro­duc­tion of Oslo, about the back­ground to the 1993 peace ac­cords

the added layer brought by my trip to Jerusalem.

I was there for a won­der­ful oc­ca­sion: a con­fer­ence for the cen­te­nary of the Bal­four Dec­la­ra­tion, marked by the open­ing of the Sir Naim Dan­goor Cen­tre on An­glo-Is­raeli re­la­tions, in the his­toric Mishkenot Sha’ananim cen­tre.

But while the con­fer­ence was splen­did and in­sight­ful and the cen­tre a much-needed new in­sti­tu­tion, the rest of my time was spent get­ting steadily more de­pressed.

I met friends and con­tacts on all sides of the Is­raeli po­lit­i­cal spec­trum. But I heard only one story from them all: that there is no longer ei­ther the

ap­petite or the op­por­tu­nity for any kind of “progress” with the Pales­tini­ans. On their side, the only move is fur­ther to­wards ex­trem­ism and en­trenched dogma. And in Is­rael, I was told re­peat­edly by both left, right and cen­tre fig­ures, the mood is now firmly set in a kind of re­signed ac­cep­tance that the best that can be hoped for is pro­lon­ga­tion of the sta­tus quo.

None of this will sur­prise any­one who fol­lows Is­raeli pol­i­tics, even from the out­side. But it’s al­ways more strik­ing when you hear it on the ground.

As was the com­par­i­son I heard made be­tween Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu and Don­ald Trump — a spe­cific com­par­i­son,

point­ing out that the Is­raeli leader is now tak­ing cam­paign­ing lessons from the Trump play­book. That means, for in­stance, hold­ing a rally in which Mr Ne­tanyahu at­tacked the press as the en­emy — a cheap, nasty, di­vi­sive but none­the­less, as Pres­i­dent Trump has shown, ef­fec­tive tac­tic.

Of course on most lev­els Is­rael is bet­ter off, busier and more set­tled than ever be­fore. Its econ­omy is thriv­ing, it is a won­der­ful place in which to live and visit, and it re­mains a mir­a­cle as it ap­proaches its 70th birthday.

Which is why, per­haps, the other side of the pic­ture is still more de­press­ing.

There is no longer the ap­petite for progress to­wards peace

PHOTO: BRINKHOFF-MOEGENBURG

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