Oct 7, 2008 21:14 | Updated Oct 8, 2008 8:43

Fundamentally Freund: Atonement for Oslo

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Tonight is the start of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, when Jews traditionally seek to make amends for their misdeeds, whether committed against their fellow man or against God. It is a special and decidedly meaningful period on the Jewish calendar, one that resonates deeply across the generations. After all, no human being is free of sin, and no one would dare to lay claim to a flawless record entirely clean of mistakes.

No one, that is, except for Shimon Peres.

In an interview last Friday with Makor Rishon, our president showed little inclination toward introspection when the subject turned to the disastrous 1993 Oslo Accords with the PLO that he helped to fashion.

Asked what he now thought of Oslo in retrospect, the putative peace-maker had only words of praise for the unmitigated catastrophe that he brought on this country. Disproving the notion that with hindsight necessarily comes knowledge, Peres insisted that "Oslo gave us the basis for peace."

What it also gave us, of course, was murder and mayhem on an unprecedented scale, as a surge in Palestinian terror left hundreds of Israelis dead and thousands of others injured over the course of subsequent years.

Regardless, Peres went on to list what he feels to be the singular achievement of the accord with Yasser Arafat. "As a result of Oslo," he declared, "the Arabs agreed that the basis would be the '67 borders and not according to the 1947 UN plan... In addition, they recognized the State of Israel and declared their opposition to terror."

Undoubtedly, the residents of Sderot and the rest of the Negev will rest easier in their bomb shelters the next time Palestinian rockets are hurtling in their direction, comforted by the knowledge that they have at last been "recognized."

WHILE PERES grudgingly acknowledged that the Palestinians have "split" - a veiled reference to the ascension of Hamas to power - he nonetheless cheerfully maintains that all is well in la-la land.

"Until today, there remains a group headed by Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas] that is conducting negotiations with Israel, and which rejects terrorism and is fighting terror," he said, conveniently overlooking the fact that the Palestinian Authority leader is perhaps Ehud Olmert's only serious rival for the title of "lamest duck in the Middle East."

Rarely has so much breathtakingly simplistic revisionism and audacious historical inaccuracy been condensed into so few words.

In 1993, Peres defied military intelligence, and basic common sense, when he convinced prime minister Yitzhak Rabin to bring Arafat and his band of terrorists to Gaza, give them weapons and hand over territory to their control. The immediate and predictable result was an unprecedented wave of stabbings, shootings and suicide bombings which left Israel reeling from the worst wave of terror in its history.

Oslo was Israel's single greatest strategic disaster since the 1973 Yom Kippur War. It marked a moral low point in Israel's conduct of its foreign relations, as Arafat's bloody track record was overlooked and, instead of being arrested, he was embraced as a peacemaker.

The agreement brought about a sharp increase in anti-Israel violence, it divided the land and people of Israel, weakened the country's deterrence posture, and paved the way for the eventual rise of Hamas.

It was considered the bold experiment of the 1990s, but it exploded in the country's face, leaving the laboratory in flames and sparking a wave of extremism and jihadist violence that is still very much with us today.

IT IS regrettable that Peres could not rise to the occasion in his interview and offer some acknowledgement of failure or at least a plea for forgiveness from the victims of Oslo. But not a single, solitary word of contrition, penitence or remorse is to be found on the subject.

Needless to say, it is tempting to chalk this up to Peres' chosen profession - that of politics, where admitting that one is wrong is rarely high on the daily "to-do" list. As Winston Churchill wryly noted, "A politician needs the ability to foretell what is going to happen tomorrow, next week, next month and next year. And to have the ability afterwards to explain why it didn't."

But the reality is that Peres' obstinate refusal to come clean is also reflective of a larger problem in Israeli society: a lack of willingness to accept personal responsibility for one's actions. It plagues our lives in so many spheres, from the playground to the boardroom to the Knesset.

The first step to correcting a mistake is to admit that one has occurred. Yet even this basic, fundamental truth seems to have escaped many of our decision makers.

Peres and those who backed the Oslo Accords owe all Israelis a belated apology. On September 13, 1993, when Rabin shook hands with Arafat after signing the accord, I along with many other television viewers felt a sense of gloom. Not because we were we were any smarter or wiser, but simply because we knew, deep down, that you cannot compromise with evil, however easy and tempting it might appear to be.

Now, some 15 years later, that gloom is shared by all, as peace has never seemed farther and less achievable than it does today.

So when Peres goes to synagogue tomorrow to mark Yom Kippur, I hope he'll take to heart the words that we recite in the Musaf prayer: "for repentance, prayer and charity remove the evil of the decree." And then maybe at last he'll realize that while he may not be able to undo the mistakes of the past, the least he can do is apologize for them.