“THE OSLO DIARIES”— Trying for Peace


Trying for Peace

Amos Lassen

 The Oslo accords eventually allowed for the recognition of the Palestinian authority over the West Bank and Gaza and this was certainly a consequential conclusion. Directors Mor Loushy and Daniel make sense of both the political realities of the talks and how they were received outside the rooms where negotiations took place. This documentary film is an excellent introduction to a much larger conversation, and while it avoids as many subjects as it addresses, it documents a time when peace, so complicated in this region, might have taken place.

In 1993 Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO leader Yasser Arafat shook hands on an agreement that began a way for Israelis and Palestinians to live together in peace. The peace agreement was called the Oslo Accords after the place where the negotiations were held. The accords took place in 1990s, a time when Mideast peace was tantalizingly close at hand. The film is a sentimental look back at what could have been for Israel and Palestine. Using extensive footage from that time period, “The Oslo Diaries” is an emotional look at what might have been.. The film also includes re-enactments of the meetings in Oslo with actors who look remarkably like their real-life counterparts. They impersonate the Israelis and Palestinians who participated in negotiating the accords. While that fictionalizing approach gives the documentary certain energy, it also adds a modicum of confusion. What works more effectively is the way the film uses voiceovers and diary excerpts from the actual players involved in the peace negotiations.

What ultimately emerges is that both Israelis and Palestinians must live with the fact that the Accords have come to represent a missed opportunity. We see newsreel footage of upsetting moments like when Rabin was shouted down for his attempts to make peace. There is also the intense rally in which Benjamin Netanyahu did not stop demonstrators from screaming, “Death to Rabin.” We see footage of the peace rally in which Rabin was assassinated. Minutes before his death, he publicly sang a song for peace with his friend and lieutenant Shimon Peres.

Twenty-five years later, many of the surviving figures of the negotiations are close friends. The filmmakers successfully show the political contrast between Rabin and Netanyahu, who became Israel’s prime minister in 1996 by the slimmest of margins. There’s a profound lesson to be learned here in this important and depressing film.

Loushy and Sivan begin in 1992, during the violent intifada that threatened to topple Rabin’s government. Two Israeli academics, Ron Pundak and Yair Hirschfeld who are committed to the cause of peace but unaffiliated with the state were dispatched to Oslo, Norway, by then Deputy Foreign Minister Yossi Beili, for secret negotiations with members of the PLO, including Arafat confidante Abu Ala (Ahmed Ali Mohammed Qurei). We hear their own words spoken, read from their diaries and see them in action. We are behind the scenes of history, and it is fascinating. The most severe disagreements focus on the land – who gets to live where – and the status of Jerusalem. This is not an easy conversation.

Soon, word leaks out about the clandestine meetings, and so Rabin has no choice but to send official government representatives. Chief Israeli negotiator Uri Savir meets with Abu Ala and a new member of the Palestinian team, Nabil Shaath. We hear their diaries are read. Some of the surviving participants appear in recently filmed talking-head interviews, including Shimon Peres, himself (though he died in 2016, so this was his last interview). There was a notable lack of women in the but Palestinian activist and legislator Hanan Ashrawi still makes her presence felt (even if she was not a fan of the eventual accords, feeling that they gave too much away to Israel). The film is an excellent and powerful close examination of a painful process that led to the 1993 signing of the Oslo Accords. and subsequent Oslo II in 1995. Sadly and unfortunately the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin in 1995 derailed everything.

The most effective part of “The Oslo Diaries” is how it reveals the forces aligned against the peace process, particularly on the Israeli side, where Benjamin Netanyahu openly waited for more violence to erupt so he could swoop in as savior and take over. Whether or not he actively wished for Rabin’s death or just didn’t see how his followers’ chants for that death created the vitriolic climate that led to it, Netanyahu was very much opposed to any land concessions to the Palestinians, and when he became Prime Minister, in 1996, with 50.4% of the vote, the peace process effectively died, as well.

A title card at the end of the movie informs the viewer that 16,000 people – Jews and Palestinians – have died since 1996, and the situation in the region today is far from good. The film shines a light on the choices of both sides, and is clearly in favor of Israel. The film leaves the viewer frustrated, but maybe it will give that same viewer hope that such a process can begin again.

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