Peace process deeply flawed from the start, says professor

Yehuda Blum was a believer in the peace process — for about four or five days.

"I happened to be in Brussels in September of 1993, visiting with the then-ambassador, who is a close friend from my student days. Shimon Peres convened all the ambassadors to Brussels to lecture them on the peace process," recalled Blum, the former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations who yesterday concluded a semester as a visiting professor at U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall School of Law.

"This friend of mine came home telling me how beautiful it all was, how Peres had a great vision. I said we should give it a try. But then I came home [to Israel] and read the declaration of principles. And from then on, I became a non-believer."

Blum has little trouble pinpointing his initial — and subsequent — skepticism with the Oslo accords. He characterizes the process as "an adventure," which Israel "got into without knowing where it was going to lead. And all the really important matters were left to the very end."

And then there's the flip-flopping.

When Peres and the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin visited the Knesset to "ask for the belated approval of the declaration of principles, they gave a few assurances that have been conveniently forgotten these days," said Blum, who taught a course on the U.N. Charter at Boalt. At 70, the Czechoslovakian-born professor has reached the age of mandatory retirement for his full-time post at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. ("You don't have that here. 'Age discrimination,' you call it in this country," he said with a laugh.)

In addressing the Knesset after the Oslo meeting, Peres and Rabin said, "We oppose the formation of a Palestinian state," Blum remembers. "Who can talk about that nowadays?

"The other thing, which was said even in the presence of Bill Clinton at the Knesset, was that Jerusalem was non-negotiable. Tell this to Mr. Barak!"

The beauty of the peace process, as advertised to Blum and others, was that the Israelis could opt out of it at any time should the Palestinians fail to live up to their end of the bargain. That time, according to Blum, should have come long ago.

"I think Yasser Arafat negotiated in bad faith from the outset; he never had any willingness to reach any real accomplishments with us, and some people say he doesn't have the ability. I think he has neither.

"You really can't undo the damage caused by Oslo, and it's a considerable amount of damage. You ask the average Israeli man in the street when he felt more secure — before peace broke out or now? In every respect, we are worse off than we were 10 years ago."

While many critics of Israeli policy point out that settlement expansion boomed during the Oslo period, Blum contends that the issue was never on the table.

"Whoever raises this issue forgets that settlements were relegated to the final-status negotiations. The status quo was going to be preserved on all issues such as Jerusalem, refugees, borders and so on, and was to be relegated to the final-status negotiations," he said. "If they thought [settlement building] was provocative, they should have insisted on regulations during the interim period, which they didn't do."

Besides, one man's settlement is another man's neighborhood.

"If Israel had undertaken to stop settlement activity, that would have applied, from an Arab and international point of view, also to Jerusalem, because the Arabs consider Gilo, French Hill, Ramot Eshkol and even the Jewish Quarter of the Old City to be settlements. And some people have said that we should not allow the establishment of new neighborhoods or expansion of existing neighborhoods in Jerusalem. But nobody in his right mind would accept that."

What, then, is the solution? With a wry chuckle Blum admits that he can't think of one — and maybe no one else can either.

"I'm reminded of something I told an old friend in New York: 'The trouble with you Americans is you think every problem has a solution.' Not every problem has an immediate solution. And sometimes problems are not solved; they just fade away like old soldiers."

This problem, obviously, is an enduring one. "It may take a long time. This is not a very sanguine comment on my part, and it is very frustrating, especially for the young people to have to live with the realization that we are in for more of the same."

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi is the managing editor at Mission Local. He is a former editor-at-large at San Francisco magazine, former columnist at SF Weekly and a former J. staff writer.