Rather Be


Doomed to Failure?

By: Ofira Seliktar

Seventy-two year old professor Ofira Seliktar teaches political science at Grazt College and is a professor at Temple University. Seliktar has experience as head of Strategy and Intelligence Section at the Association for the Study of the Middle East and Africa.

Paving the Road to Hell with Good Intentions

By: Daniel Lee

While military and political changes focus on a different dimension of international reality, they both are susceptible to the same types of predictive errors.”1 This is greatly discussed through the Oslo Accords in the book written by Ofira Seliktar, Doomed to Failure? The Politics and Intelligence of the Oslo Peace Process; the book is about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the effort to create peace. Seliktar goes through the book, examining both sides of the Oslo Accord, and what furthered or lessened the peace in the Middle East. The book also analyzes an important question affecting the Jew and the Palestinian peace—can the existence of Israel ever be accepted by Islamic fundamentalism?

The book begins by explaining the theory and practice of predicting political change. The topic of the failures of prognosticators, or people who predict the future by observing the present, is first explained: “prognosticators run a risk of committing two types of inferential errors … [accepting] a ‘false hypnosis,’ … or [rejecting] a ‘true hypothesis’.”2 These two types of error can also be referred to as an alpha and beta error; an alpha error is an error that decides an event will not take place, but in reality, does take place. On the other hand, a beta error decides an event will take place, but does not take place. It is also discussed how it is difficult, “to discern how a paradigm may shape perceptions of political reality.”3 This explains how the way one looks at things may give an outtake on the perceptions of political reality. Moving on to the first chapter, it gives a historical background of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the few attempts to settle the conflict. One attempt was the Ripeness theory, developed by William Zartman and embraced by the United State Institute of Peace and Brooking Institution of American Foreign Policy Practitioners. Theories that make it hard to control can be solved when the perceptions of oppositional leaders or countries shift from hostile to cooperative. Another attempt was Track II, an idea by Harvard social psychologist Herbert Kelman. Track II involved designed workshops and conferences to overcome hostilities with each other in an attempt to create peace. Track II advocated for citizen diplomats, former politicians, and retired military and intelligence officers to accomplish this goal. It was described as “[an] ideal for exploring creative and unorthodox ideas in a nonthreatening environment.”4 This showed how people tried to create new and unorthodox ideas and theories to create peace in any way possible. Although these attempts were resourceful, they stayed as “attempts” because they did not do enough to solve the strained conflict in the Middle East.

Throughout the second quarter of the book, it thoroughly goes over the beginning and the implementation of the Oslo Accords. With many positive outlooks on the Palestinian-Israeli peace and the push from the Bush Administration, the Oslo Accords were put together in its own fashion. There are two words that can summarize the third chapter: “legitimacy” and “Arafat.” Legitimacy can be used to talk about the membership and territory legitimacy on Palestine as a natural Islamic patrimony, an authority system legitimate of the neopatrimonial economy. The other word is “Arafat;” Yassar Arafat was the Palestinian leader at the time, and “the Palestinians considered Arafat and the PA to be deficient.”5 Arafat could not push progress for peace nor fight the Islamists, so he used propaganda for his popularity. But critics such as Edward Said claimed it was “...a smoke screen to deflect attention from the chaos, human rights abuses, and economic collapse.”6 Said had every reason and evidence to make this statement from the corruption and greed. Although many Oslo believers felt enthusiastic about the future, “...the Gaza-Jericho negotiations served to unmask the internal flaws of the Declaration of Principles and the PA system it had created.”7 The Gaza-Jericho agreement addressed civil affairs, security arrangements, and economic relations. But discussed later in the chapter, even more complex was the Oslo II, the talks about the Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Something that also posed a threat was the murder of Rabin, the Prime Minister of Israel who greatly pushed efforts for peace, which greatly intensified the cultural wars and heightened the conflict.

The next quarter of the book discusses Netanyahu’s midcourse correction of the Oslo Accords and Barak’s push for final status negotiations. Netanyahu ordered a renewal of the Oslo Accords as soon as he took office, because he thought, “...all of the Oslo (DOP, Gaza-Jicho, and Oslo II) were fundamentally flawed since it forced Israel to give up a tangible asset—land-for fuzzy, hard to to verify, and easy to elude Palestinian commitments.”8 This approach from Netanyahu was a danger to the peace progress. The Hebron memorandum and the Wye agreement was also discussed, which was negotiated under the United States and posed a challenge for the United States. The push for final status negotiations was endorsed under Barak, who had great analytical skills. Barak, who had pushed for the Balancing Act, then implemented the Sham Al Sheik memorandum and reconfigured the Oslo Peace discourse.

The final section of the book discusses what was seen as debatably inevitable collapse and reflection of the Oslo Peace. It is discussed how Camp David II tried to recreate the original Oslo setting. But with the introduction to the Intifada and the difficulty of managing internal relations and armed struggle in the balance, it was difficult to keep peace. And with the Taba talks on January 21, 2001, it “quickly dispelled the hopes for a last minute breakthrough.”10 Although there were some supporters of the Oslo peace, the last hopes were destroyed when Ariel Sharon won the Israel election with the largest margin in Israeli history. This was because of the “no confidence” in the Oslo Peace by Sharon and his voters.9 The chapter ends with the discussion of the possibility of keeping the Oslo peace. In conclusion, the book ends with the reflection and the lessons of the Oslo Accord. It looks at the three levels, the paradigmatic level, the foreign policy level, and the Intelligence level. On a paradigmatic level, instead of being a more democratic nation, it became surrounded with the corruption of Yassar Arafat in Palestine. On the foreign policy level, the Palestine-Israel conflict became the a very well-known conflict during this time and was transformed into a testing ground for innovative peace theories, such as the Ripeness Theory and Track II. Lastly, on the intelligence level, the community of intelligence and security dispelled the long-standing leftist view that Israeli policy was controlled by.

What Ofira Seliktar was trying to put forth in her book, Doomed to Failure? The Politics and Intelligence of the Oslo Peace Process was how and why the highly praised Oslo Accords that was supposed to keep the peace between the Israelis and Palestinians failed. Seliktar points out that some of the many causes of the failures were the cultural differences, Yassar Arafat, and the violence. It is explained how, “Rabin’s murder greatly intensified the cultural wars.”11 Rabin, who was the Israeli leader, became significant because of how much he was trying to push for peace, and his assassination also became a threat to Israeli’s division. Secondly, Yassat Arafat was described as corrupt and could have supported the Oslo Accords for the benefit of peace, but did not do so for his personal benefits. An example of his corruption can be seen when he “created a hidden ‘second budget,’” for his personal benefit.12 This “second budget” was used for weapons, his family’s wealth, and other personal benefits. Lastly, what Seliktar was trying to point out was that violence was a major contribution to the failure of the Oslo Accords. This violence was from the terror attacks between the Israelis and the Palestines, which limited their trust in each other.

Ofira Seliktar is currently age seventy-two professor of political science at Grazt College, Melrose Park, PA, and an adjunct professor at Temple University in Philadelphia, PA. Seliktar also has experience as the head of the Strategy and Intelligence Section at the Association for the Study of the Middle East and Africa. This shows the amount of experience and qualification she has toward the subject. Seliktar also wrote seven other books such asThe Politics of Intelligence an American Wars with Iraq in addition to Politics, Paradigms, and Intelligence Failures: Why So Few Predicted the Collapse of the Soviet Union, which was recognized by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. With multiple books written in a similar subject, it is just more evidence of the confidence in Seliktar’s qualifications. It can be implied that her knowledge on the topic concerning the Middle East is great and clearly possesses a credible voice.

This book was written in 2009, when many significant events occurred relating to Israel and Palestine. Israel elected Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, its most right-wing government in history and widely considered a racist, nationalist and loose cannon, which promptly obstructed President Obama’s renewed peace process. Because there was no progress on peace negotiations with Israel, who refused to cease colonizing Palestinian land, Mahmoud Abbas of West Bank and Jerusalem announced his intention to resign. Meanwhile, the Gazans lived with the lack of much electricity, food, and other services under the Israeli blockade, forcing them to survive in harsh conditions. Around this period of time, the evidence from the events shows that the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians still exists.

The two professional book reviews of Ofria Selktar’s book are by Alexander H. Joffe and Asaf Romirowsky. Alexander H. Joffe applauds Seliktar by saying, “Seliktar shows admirably which decisions were made and by whom. For this, and for a penetrating analysis of how experts went wrong, her book deserves wide attention.”13 On the other hand, Romirowsky talked about Seliktar’s ability “.....to show how the Israeli leftist intelligentsia, which included academics, journalists and military officials,” was very important.14 One major difference between the two reviews is that Alexander H. Joffe overall wrote more about how Seliktar tackled the Oslo Accords. On the other hand, Asaf Romirowsky tended to focus more on what Seliktar wrote about the Oslo Accords. Alexander H. Joffe explained how Seliktar began the book with a discussion of how politicians perceived the world, which points to the question of perception and deception amongst them. Alexander H. Joffe also explains how Seliktar adopted a “top-down” approach because of the way Seliktar organized her work. Another feature Alexander H. Joffe pointed out was Seliktar’s research and the different interpretations throughout the book. Asaf Romirowsky talked about how Seliktar showed how the Israeli leftist intelligentsia was brought into the “peace of the brave,” which had been Arafat’s idea. Romirowsky also analyzed that Seliktar successfully pointed out the core of the Oslo Accords’ failure which was that the West and Israeli Left never understood the handshake between Yitzhak Rabin, Arafat and Bill Clinton was a facade. Romirowsky continued to explain that the Islamists gaining support from the Palestinian society, and Israelis disillusioned by the Oslo, contributed to the failure. Romirowsky concluded his review by saying the Israeli political paradigm had changed over the sixteen years, and that the Obama administration should learn from the Oslo’s failure.

Doomed to Failure? The Politics and Intelligence of the Oslo Peace Process is a comprehensive book covering the topic of the Oslo accords. It goes in depth of before the Oslo accord, during, and after, which is divided into eight chapters and subchapters in those chapters. The book was almost like a textbook with the immense amount of factual information. With that being said, although it did have many insightful observations on the Oslo Peace Accords, it was not the most exciting book to read. With little to no opinion on the topic, it was almost the opposite of a biased book because of how little Seliktar’s opinions were included. Another reason it felt unexciting was because there was not a main plot to follow. Although the core of the book was the failure of the Oslo Accords, there were many ideas that were surrounding the Oslo Accords that were confusing. The lack of clarification within the historical information itself hindered thorough understanding of it.

As the Cold War came to a close, it marked the beginnings of the fear of “terrorism.” One of the biggest challenges to the Oslo peace discussed in the book is violence. This violence was fed from the terror between the Israelis and the Palestines. Many times, these kinds of acts of violence were caused by Arafat, who was criticized throughout the book for corruption. It is explained through Gilad: “... Arafat was always a terrorist and used terror either directly though his Force 17 or indirectly through Hamas,” which shows how Arafat used terror for his self-interest.15 Additionally the growth of the radical Islamic movement also led to the growth of terrorism.

Doomed to Failure? addresses the impact of digital technology on America since the 1990’s with the use of surveys and propaganda for political reasons. Propaganda was used by politicians from America, Palestine, and Israel. Historians also used surveys to see the opinion of the people, for example, to look at a popularity of a current leader. Americans internationally tried to popularize Yassar Arafat to make it easier to achieve peace and negotiate. On the other hand, Yasssar Arafat used propaganda to benefit only himself and wanted to gain total supervision by “Arafat order[ing] the transfer of the TV station’s control room from Ramallah to his offices in Gaza.” Moreover, “the PA moved against privately owned electronic media outlets, dismantling or jamming their broadcasts.”16 This use of the media with the TV medium is an example of technology that could not have been widely used even thirty years ago. Of course, with the actions of Arafat, there was criticism, for example, “Sari Nusseibeh, whose university affiliated television channel criticized corruption, was threatened and his station jammed.”17 Even if there was criticism, Arafat found a way to mute criticism and shut it down.

In conclusion, the book Doomed to Failure? The Politics and Intelligence of the Oslo Peace Process written by Ofira Seliktar is an informative book about the Oslo peace. It provides an immense amount of information that explores in depth the Oslo Accord and the inevitable failure of it. The book looks at the causes and effects of the Oslo Accord by dividing it into eight chapters and subchapters. Finally, it concludes with Ofira Seliktar advising her audience to heed the lessons learned from the Oslo Accords.

[1] Seliktar, Ofira. Doomed to Failure?: the Politics and Intelligence of the Oslo Peace Process. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, LLC, 2009. 1.
[2] Seliktar, Ofira. 2.
[3] Seliktar, Ofira. 3.
[4] Seliktar, Ofira. 8.
[5] Seliktar, Ofira. 70.
[6] Seliktar, Ofira. 72.
[7] Seliktar, Ofira. 79.
[8] Seliktar, Ofira. 103.
[9] Seliktar, Ofira.173.
[10] Seliktar, Ofira. 172.
[11] Seliktar, Ofira. 100
[12] Seliktar, Ofira. 66.
[13] Seliktar, Ofira. 194.
[14]Reprints, External. “Book Review by Alexander H. Joffe: Ofira Seliktar, Doomed to Failure? The Politics and Intelligence of the Oslo Peace Process.” SPME. Alexander H. Joffe, 11 July 2010. Web. 20 May 2017.
[15] Romirowsky, Asaf. “Doomed to Failure?: The Politics and Intelligence of the Oslo Peace Process.” Asaf Romirowsky. Pudicity, 31 Dec. 2009.
[16] Seliktar, Ofira. 125.
[17] Seliktar, Ofira 61.