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http://www.gush-shalom.org/archives/article70.html

Translation of the unabridged version of an article published in Ma'ariv, October 25, 1999.

The March of Folly

by Uri Avnery:

The news in the papers say that, as an opening position in the coming permanent status negotiations, Barak is going to offer the Palestinians a state of their own in 18% of the "territories". I wish I could add: I don't believe it. But the truth is, I do believe.

18% of the "territories" occupied by Israel in 1967 are less than 4% (four percent!) of the territory of Palestine under the British Mandate. In such a territory, which will be cut up into enclaves, it is impossible to create a viable state, not even a mini-state. It is hardly enough for a Bantustan - the name given to the black "homelands" by their white masters in the former South Africa.

Such an offer is not only a burning insult to the Palestinians, but also an act of extreme foolishness. It will compel the Palestinians to adopt a similar method - an extreme "opening position" of their own. They might start with the UN partition resolution of 1947, which is the legal basis of the State of Israel even according to our Declaration of Independence. This resolution accords to the Palestinian-Arab state the towns of Ramleh and Lydda, Acre and Beersheba. Greater Jerusalem was turned over to an international regime.

The folly called "opening position" has a history. I came across it immediately after the 1967 war, when the then Prime Minister, Levy Eshkol, explained it to me. A few days before, on the fifth day of the war, I had published an Open Letter to the Prime Minister, suggesting to turn over to the Palestinians all the parts of the country conquered just now by the Israeli army, in return for an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. I also asked him to grant me an urgent audience.

He called me to the Prime Minister's office in the Knesset building. ( I was a member of he Knesset at the time.) After we had occupied all of the territory of Palestine and beaten all the Arab countries, I said, the Palestinian people is in a state of shock. This is an opportunity, which may never return, to effect an historical change. If we make it possible for the Palestinians to set up their own state now, side by side with Israel, in the framework of an agreement with us, we can settle once and for all the conflict which has already endured for three generations.

Eshkol listened with amused patience. (Contrary to many leaders, he was able to listen.) Then he said something like: "Uri, what kind of a trader are you? You want to give the Palestinian the maximum before you even start. That's not the way to make a deal. At the start you offer the minimum and demand the maximum. Afterwards, if necessary, you give up something and reach agreement."

"With all due respect," I answered, "That may be a good way to sell a horse, but not to settle an historical conflict between to nations."

I am recounting this, not for the first time, in order to point out the double folly of this approach. First, making such a humiliating offer is

a first-class psychological blunder - as proven by the fact that all Arab leaders - including King Hussein, who was already engaged in secret contacts with Israel - refused the offer and went to Khartoum, where they adopted the famous "Three No's" We saw the result on Yom Kippur. And second, it is also a major domestic political blunder. In the eyes of the public, the minimum "opening position" of the government becomes immediately a maximum offer, a "red line". Every withdrawal from this line will look thereafter like a shameful surrender of a weak and pitiful, if not treacherous, leadership. The same will, of course, happen on the other side.

The same minds in the Prime Minister's office that hatched this foolish idea are now busy preaching "separation". This is a negative term. "Divide and impera" is an ancient cynical slogan. "Separation" is the translation of the Afrikaans word Apartheid. "High fences make good neighbors", a saying frequently quoted by Mr. Barak, is a fetching, but dangerous, slogan. A person who thinks about electrified fences, barbed-wire barricades and mine-fields does not really think about peace, but about the continuation of the war by other means. Peace must bring the two peoples to mutual understanding and cooperation, drying the swamp that bred the violence, hatred and terrorism.

Fifty years ago some of us started to talk about a peace based on the co-existence of Israel and a Palestinian state that must come into being at its side. We always emphasized that the border between the two sates must be open to the movement of people, ideas and goods. When I talked about this for the first time with Yitzhaq Rabin, he coined a phrase that is since then embedded in my memory: "I don't care for a safe border (gvul batuach), but for an open border (gvul patuach). That was thirty years ago.


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