The Oslo peace accord has spawned not only J.T. Rogers’ marvelous play but a whole literature about what took place during those months in 1993. Of the multiple accounts, which the playwright consulted to create the drama, I have been reading two: Yossi Beilin’s Touching Peace: From the Oslo Accord to a Final Agreement, and Ahmed Qurie’s From Oslo to Jerusalem: The Palestinian Story of the Secret Negotiations. (Both are available on Amazon.) Beilin is played in Oslo by Adam Dannheisser and Qurie by Anthony Azizi.
Beilin’s book, which was written in Hebrew and published in English in 1999, begins: “There is no event more formative than war. Nothing else marks generations as war does. I was born during the War of Liberation of 1948-49, I experienced the Sinai Campaign of 1956…Ten months after I was conscripted, at the end of the quietest decade in Israel’s history, I found myself embroiled in the Six Day War of 1967, in 8 Division, in the conquest of Sinai and the Golan Heights.”
Beilin goes on to describe how, in 1992, after the victory of the Labour Party in Israel, he was appointed Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs under Shimon Peres. Beilin relates how he became involved in the Oslo peace process, and spends 90 pages of his 292-page book offering an analysis of the negotiations. He concludes: “None of the members of the ‘Oslo Club’ – which numbers no more than a couple of dozen, Norwegian, Israeli and Palestinian – can lay claim to the architect’s laurels, not only because most of them only joined this exclusive club when the track was paved, but also because none of the founders could foresee the outcome from the outset. Some observers see this outcome as a solution, others see it as a disaster. Only history will be the final judge.”
As a counterweight to his opening chapter about war, Beilin spends the second half of the book addressing the question of how Israel can live in peace: Israel nationalism and foreign policy, Israel as part of the Jewish world, electoral reform, religion and the state, the Arabs of Israel, and other topics.
The Qurie book was published in 2006, just after he had completed a stint as Prime Minister of the Palestinian National Authority. It is a play-by-play of the Oslo negotiations themselves. He says, “When we took our first steps on the uncharted road to Oslo, the chance of success seemed remote. Yet we felt it worthwhile to take a risk in order to examine the possibilities of achieving a peaceful settlement, since there was nothing for us to lose.” During the Oslo process, Qurie was the finance minister of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). He says that participating in Oslo was a decision “taken at the highest level of the Palestinian leadership,” but it was to him “that the duty fell to make the attempt.”
Qurie’s chapter titles reflect the emotional ups and downs of the process: “The hook and the bait,” “Taking the plunge,” “Straight talking: optimism,” “More straight talking: pessimism,” “Closing the circle,” and “The handshake in Washington.” Qurie says, “I gave nine months of my life to the accomplishment of the agreement, and had the privilege of placing my initials on it.” Like Beilin, Qurie leaves it to history to pronounce the verdict on Oslo’s success or failure. Both men are rightfully proud of their work on the accord, and are generous in their praise of their colleagues in the negotiation. Qurie even mentions another book devoted to Oslo: The Process, by Uri Savir, who was the head of the Israeli team and is portrayed in Oslo by Michael Aronov. Savir’s account is next up on my bedside stack.
Brendan Lemon is the editor of lemonwade.com.