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Ha'aretz , August 4, 1999

Analysis

It's not Wye, it's Oslo

By Aluf Benn, Ha'aretz

 

One "no" from Yasser Arafat was enough for Ehud Barak to dispense with the diplomatic niceties and reveal what he really thinks about the Oslo process. The prime minister believes Oslo was a bad agreement, drafted in negligence, which will only perpetuate the conflict under terms more beneficial to the Palestinians.

One thing about Barak - he's consistent. He disliked the deal with Arafat from the very beginning. As IDF chief of staff, Barak warned of the "difficult and complicated defense situation" that the Oslo agreement would create on the ground. As a minister in the government of Yitzhak Rabin, he refrained from voting on the second Oslo accord because of his opposition to the phased withdrawal plan. Barak believed Israel would be giving up territorial bargaining cards in return for vague Palestinian promises to behave in the future. This week, as prime minister, he said virtually the same thing.

The Oslo agreement provides for an Israeli withdrawal from most of the West Bank, in stages, even before a permanent-status agreement is reached, and with no direct recompense from the Palestinians. Shimon Peres believed that giving up territory would change the relationship between Israel and the Palestinians in such a way that negotiations on the thorny issues - permanent borders, the settlements, Jerusalem, refugees - would be much easier.

Benjamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak, united in their opposition to the Peres view, tried to use delays in the withdrawals as a bargaining chip. Netanyahu insisted that the Palestinians wage war on terrorism and cancel the covenant that called for Israel's destruction. Barak is trying to squeeze a diplomatic concession out of the Palestinians and to force them to sign a permanent-status agreement that will be favorable to Israel.

Barak's demands are much more far-reaching, it turns out, than Netanyahu's petty insistences - like the former prime minister's complaints of discrimination against homosexuals in the Palestinian Authority. Within six months - Barak's target date for creating a framework for the final status agreement - Barak wants Arafat to commit to leaving intact settlement blocs in the West Bank, to concede that Jerusalem will not be the capital of Palestine and to give up the fight for a right of return for Palestinian refugees. In other words, Barak wants Arafat to give up the Palestinian national ethos. In return, Arafat is to receive Israeli recognition of an independent Palestinian state, a slightly more generous withdrawal package than the Likud was offering, a long bridge between Hebron and Gaza and generous economic support.

Barak has gone from one world leader to the next trying to sell a tempting offer. Give me backing, Barak has been saying, and I'll take the Israeli-Palestinian conflict off your agenda. Barak's interlocutors were delighted to see Netanyahu leave the stage and greeted his successor ecstatically. But that is a long way from withdrawing the international support that is Arafat's strongest card.

Barak's proposal for altering the Wye agreement violates a cardinal principle of international relations - that agreements, once signed, must be honored. Israeli opponents of the peace process always claimed that Jerusalem could not sign agreements with Arab leaders, dictators who did not necessarily represent their constituents, because their successors were liable to toss the agreements out the window. Reality proved that argument a canard. Israel signed peace accords with Anwar Sadat and King Hussein; today, the successors to both dead leaders have kept the peace intact. Whereas in Israel, every democratically-elected government tries to fix up the agreements signed by its predecessor.

In the next few weeks, Barak is going to have to find his way down from the tree he has climbed. Even if he does, the deep divide recently revealed between him and Arafat will remain.

 

(c) copyright 1999 Ha'aretz. All Rights Reserved 1


http://www3.haaretz.co.il/eng/scripts/article.asp?id=52941&mador=1


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