It’s a given that most of us would love to see (or should love to see) our world at peace. But in these frustratingly tense times, that concept seems as distant as it’s ever been, particularly in the case of the Israel-Palestine conflict. The rift has gone on for so long and runs so deep, claiming countless lives in the process, that the idea of a peace agreement between the two sides seems like a naive dream smothered by an endless nightmare. The Oslo Diaries, the new documentary from Israeli filmmakers Mor Loushy and Daniel Sivan, takes us back to an essential moment in the early 1990s, however, when harmony between these two sides not only emerged as a possibility but seemed firmly within grasp.
In 1992, a couple of Israeli professors flew to Norway to meet with some representatives of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) about the possibility of forming a peace agreement. At the time, any conversations with the Palestinian side were illegal under Israeli law, so the meeting took place in absolute secrecy. Eventually this would lead to the historic Oslo Accords of the following year, where Israel agreed to gradually pull out from its occupation of disputed territories, among other new compromises to create a better future. Everyone remembers the televised handshake between Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO leader Yasser Arafat on the White House lawn as Bill Clinton awkwardly forces them together but until now, the details of the backroom talks were only accounted for within the diaries of the people who were present.
The directors do a good job layering narrated passages of the diaries over a mix of archival footage and ‘90s video-cam styled reenactments of the negotiators at work, while current talking head interviews with many of the main players provide the necessary retrospective insight. They play up the otherworldliness of the chilly Nordic landscape as an environment where each side’s feelings can be laid bare, in order to move forward and work together to create a solution. As progress is eventually made, the negotiations find their way into the public eye until Rabin and Arafat themselves jump on board. And while the progression of the Oslo Accords begins to dominate the media, the process remains confined to various rooms as a group of people who just want the best for their nations continue a constant back-and-forth about how to reconcile and appease everyone. It’s a testament to how arduous and emotionally draining the peace-making process is, but at the same time, worth it.
Yet for all this, it never did work out, with the collapse of the Oslo Accords spurred on by the assassination of Rabin and the rise of Israeli nationalism courtesy of new (and current) Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The hate and violence continue unabated and with no end in sight. And while that’s a depressing takeaway, the film stands as a document to the fact that people came together as humans to forge a new path and that it can certainly happen again. In these dark times, it’s important stuff.