As the ‘Peace Process’ resumes, is it ‘deva Jew’ all over again?

Jewish Light front page from March 28, 1979

BY ROBERT A. COHN, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus

Looking back at the events of the decade of the 1990s, certainly the signing on Sept. 13, 1993, of the Oslo Accords “Declaration of Principles” by Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat as President Bill Clinton looked on, must rank as one of the top stories. By a stroke of fate, and thanks to the persistence of now Secretary of State John Kerry, yet another attempt is being made to fulfill those lofty Oslo Accords—two decades and much frustration and bloodshed later.

Although I was not in Washington for the signing of the Oslo Accords, I was able to share the experience via a large-screen TV that was set up in the Jewish Federation Kopolow Building by the Jewish Community Relations Council of St. Louis. I had the privilege of sitting next to the late and beloved Rabbi Robert P. Jacobs, founding Director of St. Louis Hillel and executive vice president of the St. Louis Rabbinical Association. I shared with Jacobs a pun from a journalistic friend of mine, that the signing was “Deva JEW all over again”—I have the strange feeling that I have had this Jewish experience before.

Rabbi Jacobs and I, along with the hundred or so people watching the Oslo signing on live TV, were struck by the body language of Rabin, hero of Israel’s War of Independence and the Six Day War, who loathed PLO Chairman Arafat for the bloodshed he had caused. Yet Rabin had the courage to attempt a “peace of the brave.” He literally guided his right arm with his left arm to force him to shake hands with Arafat, standing at the very table where in 1979 Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin had shaken hands in the interests of peace after signing the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty. “If my children and grandchildren, and those of Chairman Arafat can be spared going to war yet again, then I am willing to give this peace a chance.”

Tragically, Rabin, like Sadat before him, paid with his own life for his risks for peace, gunned down at a peace rally on Nov. 5, 1995 in Tel Aviv by fanatic Jewish nationalist student Yigal Amir, who is still serving a life sentence for the murder of Israel’s warrior-peacemaker.

Sadat had been assassinated by fanatic opponents at a military parade on Oct. 6. 1981, in front of his vice president Hosni Mubarak. Mubarak, often derided as a colorless figure by Egyptian observers, became president and for the next 30 years kept the Egypt-Israel Treaty in place, until the 2011 “Arab Spring” demonstrations which forced him from office. 


Mubarak, of course, was succeeded by Muslim Brotherhood member Mohammed Morsi, who kept the treaty in place, largely to assure continuation of the $1.5 billion in U.S. financial assistance to the largest Arab state. Morsi has himself been removed in what can only be described as a classic military coup. The Egyptian Army is expected to continue to honor the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty—a testament to the hard work of its main author, then President Jimmy Cater.

The Sept. 13, 1993 Oslo Accords Declaration of Principles set a goal of an independent Palestinian State within five years, which would live side-by-side in peace and security with the Jewish State of Israel. However, the Oslo Accords were thwarted by Palestinian Authority President Arafat when he walked out of the July 2000 Camp David talks and launched the Second Intifada, in which 1,000 Israelis and 2,500 Palestinians needlessly died.

Arafat’s successor, Mahmoud Abbas, who has renounced terrorism and says he wants to make peace, has thus far been too timid to take the needed steps towards making his dream of an independent Palestinian state possible. Hopes have soared over and over again in past attempts to achieve the long-sought Israeli-Palestinian peace. Perhaps this time, when hopes are mingled with the pessimism generated by past failures, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, with patient assistance and support from President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Kerry and veteran special envoy Martin Indyk, could at last find the path to peace.

While the rest of the Middle East—Egypt, Syria, Tunisia, Lebanon and Libya—are torn by the bitter Arab Winter that followed the so-called Arab Spring, an ironic calm has prevailed for the most part between Israel and Palestine. As the Jewish New Year 5774 approaches, let us offer yet another prayer that the peace so long sought by the State of Israel will at last be achieved with its Palestinian neighbors.