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Ha'aretz, July 25, 1999

The psychology of Wye

By Zvi Bar'el

The question of whether to implement the Wye accord or to improve its terms is analogous to the question of whether to continue the talks with Syria from the point where they were suspended. Both tracks demand an initial concrete payment by the Barak government in hard currency: Land to the Palestinians and the annulment, at least declaratively, of Israeli sovereignty on the Golan Heights. Therefore, at this stage, both Wye and the Syrian track demand first of all a shift in the psyche of the Israeli government and the public, and a recognition of the fact that territories as such have no security value.The justification for postponing the implementation of Wye or, to put it succinctly, for linking it to the permanent settlement, is of no relevance. Wye is a secondary agreement to Oslo and was explicitly intended to facilitate the execution of the Oslo accords by the sides involved. The fact that the previous government did not fulfill its commitments under the accord cannot serve the new government as an escape hatch for not carrying it out. The Palestinians, like the Syrians, are unwilling - and justly so - to open a new chapter with every new government in Israel. Justly so, because without complete confidence regarding the continuity of these agreements and understandings, no agreement, whether original or improved, will have continuity.

In retrospect, it is clear that had Yitzhak Rabin not been assassinated, the Wye accord would never have come into existence. On the assumption that the timetable would have been upheld, by now the permanent settlement would have been behind us, or we would have been in the midst of the negotiations to conclude it. Wye was engendered, it should be recalled, in order to postpone the terrible threat of the declaration of an independent Palestinian state on May 4, 1999. The main section of Wye includes a series of articles concerning the war against terrorism, confirmation of the annulment of certain articles of the Palestinian Covenant, the establishment of committees to examine incitement, a discussion about the building of an airport and a sea port in the Gaza Strip, the release of prisoners and other points intended as confidence-building measures. These matters were already included in Oslo and should have long since ceased to serve as subjects for negotiations.

The other part of Wye, which Barak now wants to amend, refers to the scope of the IDF's withdrawals in the West Bank and the timetable for their implementation. Because the original timetable no longer exists, all that is left to do is to examine - and this will be a purely academic exercise - what benefit might spring from amending the size of the pullbacks. The only grounds for this lies in the possibility that Israel will be left with no assets when the time comes to discuss the permanent settlement.

The Wye accord entails an immediate transfer of 27.2 percent of West Bank land from hand to hand. Of this, 12 percent will be transferred from full Israeli control to Palestinian civilian - though not security - control; 14.2 percent will change from Palestinian civilian control to full Palestinian control; and only one percent of the territory will be transferred from full Israeli to full Palestinian control. Mathematically, then, Israel will lose full or partial control over only 13 percent of territory.

But the debate is not over mathematics and it has nothing to do with security. Because even if Israel wants to continue holding military facilities, such as the one next to the settlement of Ofra, there is no need to hold the settlement as well; and if the Judean Desert is an important piece of land, its status has already been determined as a nature reserve in which Israel will have overall security control. The real point is that these mathematical percentage points mean, in practical terms, transferring a few settlements to the Palestinian sector and positioning many others on the Palestinian boundary line. Because the issues of Jerusalem, the refugees and control of water sources cannot be part of an exchange deal involving territory, the question of the settlements will remain the only one that can be contemplated in terms of an exchange.

So it's best not to beat around the bush and to state forthrightly that whoever wishes to postpone the implementation of Wye in order to leave Israel with assets for later bargaining is effectively adopting the approach of Likud leader Ariel Sharon, who urged the settlers to seize as many hilltops and other pieces of land as they could. This makes the settlements and the settlers in the West Bank full partners to the negotiations, because they are holding the percentage points of land that are the subject of the bargaining. This is a status which Barak does not imagine conferring on the settlers in the Golan Heights when he talks about negotiations with Syria

 

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

Source:  http://www3.haaretz.co.il/eng/scripts/article.asp?id=52253&mador=4&datee=7/25/99


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