In 1993, the Oslo Accords were adopted. This was the last success in the Arab-Israeli peace process. Culminating in an iconic photo-op, where Bill Clinton presides over, while Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat shake hands, on the Whitehouse lawn. Rabin and Arafat later shared the Nobel peace prize, but the origin of this diplomatic win began much more prosaically, with a quiet Norwegian couple.
Husband and wife, Terje Rød-Larsen and Mona Juul, facilitated the negotiations that eventually led to the Oslo Accord. In 2017, J.T. Rodgers adopted their story to the stage, with his Tony award-winning Broadway play, Oslo. Performed at the Rep, this is artistic director Steven Woolf’s final directorial production in his illustrious thirty-year career with the Saint Louis Repertory Theater.
In the opening scene, Terje describes meeting Rabin, who at first comes across as a sputtering clown. “Six months later, Rabin is prime minister, and I am a fool,” says Terje. “Why? Because I saw one side of this man and assumed this meant I knew all of him.” Chance encounters lead to secret meetings. Through Rodgers, we witness not these meetings themselves, but the intervals in-between them. Set in the anteroom adjoining the negotiating room, we witness the down time between principles. Jokes are made and stories are told, lightening this three-hour history of a peace process that had some measure of success.
Juxtaposition this story, with last week’s debacle in Vietnam. Terje emphasized personal relationships in those negotiations, but he also had a plan, a strategy that he called gradualism, a policy of gradual reform rather than sudden change. Contrast this with Trump and Kim’s mano o mano quest for a deal, where so little preparation was done that the two sides can’t even now agree on what they disagreed about. It is a sad commentary on this summit that the world first held its breath and then let out a collective sigh, when no deal was reached. Fear of a bad deal being struck, just for a win, was that great.