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David Bedein: Following Uri Savir's death, a perspective on his book about the Oslo Accords: The Process: 1,100 Days That Changed the Middle East

by David Bedein, May 24, 2022

 
 
Uri Savir,who died  May 14, 2022 at the age of 69 , was one of the key diplomats who crafted the  the 1993
Middle East negotiations , which came to be known as the Oslo process, because of secret talks held in the
Norwegian capital between the Israeli government and its rival, the Palestine Liberation Organization.
 
 
Savir wrote a book published in 1998  about the Oslo process titled "The Process: 1,100 That Changed the Middle East." Savir left a living legacy of the Oslo process in his book, which  afforded unprecedented recognition, status and arms for Yassir Arafat and the PLO Organization, so as to irrevocably alter the history and direction of the Middle East.
 
Uri Savir, who served as the director of Israel’s foreign ministry from May 1993 until May 1996, played a crucial role in the Oslo process, until Benyamin Netanyahu, the head of Israel’s Likud opposition party defeated Uri Savir’s boss, Prime Minister Shimon Peres, Israel’s Labor Party leader in a close race for the office of Israeli head of state, after which Savir tendered his resignation from Israel’s foreign service.
 
Savir declared that he authored this title while the Oslo process was still fresh in his memory, and. presumably, while the diskettes from Savir’s computer were still warm. Since Savir continued to advocate for the Oslo process as the head of the Peres Center for Peace in the Middle East, this book should be read and carefully analyzed by those who pay close attention to the Middle East.
 
In this book, Savir walked  through the sweat of the hours, days and weeks of meticulous negotiations that he led with the PLO. taking the reader from airports to hotel rooms to the hidden places of secret rendezvous in m Norwegian woods and Israeli resorts. Savir was a man to chronicle every detail of negotiation, down to the last cigarette butt and empty cup of Turkish coffee left in smoke-filled negotiating rooms.
 
Savir wrote how he developed  a respect for leading members of the PLO, especially for one PLO operative in particular – his negotiating partner, Abu Alla, the head of Arafat’s PLC, the Palestine Legislative Council. In Savir’s view, the Oslo process was a diplomatic initiative that had little or no downside for the state of Israel, let alone for the cause of peace.
 
What Savir did not offer was any perspective of how these agreements unraveled so quickly, and while he was still in office. Savir stated firmly and clearly that his first accomplishment in the negotiations with the PLO was that Jerusalem would be kept out of the Palestine Authority and the PLO. In this book, Savir did confirm, however. for the first time, that Peres had given official sanction to Palestinian institutions in Jerusalem, in a secret document that has never been disclosed. 
 
Savir did not mention is that during August, 1993, that the PLO did exactly the opposite of what   was intended, , and formally established official institutions of the Palestine Authority and the PLO in Jerusalem, all of which continue to function in Jerusalem, in violation of the accord reached with Peres and Savir.
 
Savir proudly reported the agreement that he achieved to get the new Palestine Authority to arrest and try any Arab who escaped to the area under their control after committing a terrorist attack, except that he negleced to mention that Arafat and the Palestine Authority refused to arrest any killers who found refuge inside the Palestine Authority, with the exception of Imjad HaNawi, one of the two gunmen who machine gunned to death an American boy, David Boim, at a bus stop north of Jerusalem in May, 1996 whom the Palestine Authority only arrested after President Clinton’s personal intervention in February, 1998.
 
Throughout the book, Savir mentioned the underlying assumption that the Palestine Authority will crush the Hamas without any mention or analysis of the May 1995 Palestine Authority decision to arm the Hamas or the December 1995 Palestine Authority decision to incorporate the Hamas within the Palestine Authority.

Yet Savir expressed full confidence in Arafat as an advocate of peace.

Surprisingly, nowhere in this book will you find Savir ever mentioning the constant stream of speeches given by Arafat in Arabic since the genesis of the Oslo accords, which  called for total  war against the people and state of Israel.

Savir wrote as if Arafat’s speeches against peace never took place or did not exist.

In February, 1995, following one of Savir’s briefings at the Israeli Foreign Ministry, I asked Savir for his comment about Arafat’s incitement in Arabic. 

Savir gave a blank stare, which perhaps meant that he was not capable of dealing with any fault ascribed to his negotiating partners.

Savir chose to overlook Arafat’s shortcomings because of what he viewed as the greatest accomplishment of the Oslo process – the cancellation of the PLO covenant that calls for continued war against the state and people of Israel.

In his book, Savir reported that on April 24, 1996, at “the highest point of the peace process”, that Arafat had fulfilled his pledge to convene the Palestine National Council, the PNC, to cancel the PLO covenant. Savir even noted that the Israeli foreign ministry’s special American legal consultant Yoel Singer had confirmed that this was the case.

Yet when Singer read the proofs of this book, he publicly revealed for the first time that the PNC never voted on the carefully worded proposal to cancel the PLO covenant that Singer had negotiated with Arafat’s director of planning, Nabil Sha’at.

Instead, Sha’at informed Singer that the PLO was incapable of passing any such resolution. All the PNC did was to form a committee to consider a new charter.

Singer reported that Savir knew this full well. The question remains: Why, when the the book was completed in May, 1998 did Savir again convey the notion that the PLO had canceled its covenant, when he knew this was not the case?

Savir could have used this chronicle of the Oslo accords to analyze why all Palestine Authority media, including the news coverage of the official PBC, the Palestine Broadcasting Corporation, reported that the PNC had not canceled the PLO covenant as requested.

Yet even a more serious question emerges: Did Savir’s warm and intense relationship with Abu Alla and with Arafat distract his better judgment from seeing that they acted in a charming and convincing manner with him, while carrying out yet another policy with their own people.

Uri Savir negotiated an agreement as a patriot of Israel, and as an advocate of peace.

Yet It would seem that he could not  bear to see that the people whom he has negotiated with in good faith may have betrayed him.

With his passing, a sequel to Savir’s book is needed, to analyze whether the trust and faith that Savir placed in Arafat, Abu Allah and the Palestine Liberation Organization ultimately advanced or hurt the cause of peace in the Middle East.
 
 
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