Lessons not learned
by Jonathan Rosenblum
December 22, 1999
According to reports that the government has barely bothered to deny, Ehud Barak has offered Yassir Arafat concessions far exceeding even those put on the table at Camp David: sovereignty over the Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount plus 97% of the West Bank and additional territory within the Green Line. All this without even a Palestinian renunciation of the right of return, just an agreement to defer the issue until later. Indeed Barak is said to have upped his previous offer to admit 100,000 refugees for purposes of family reunification.
President Katsav is right that Barak has no mandate to enter final status negotiations in the present circumstances. Last weekend’s polls showed that in general elections Binyamin Netanyahu would have defeated him by 20%, and the Right could have formed a coalition of between 70 and 80 MKs. To preclude that electoral debacle, Barak invoked a provision in the election laws designed for a situation in which the Prime Minister becomes incapacitated.
As an interim prime minister, Barak is precluded by law from making any political appointments, and a fortiori from entering into binding diplomatic agreements that will determine the fate of Israel, perhaps forever.
Even if no agreement on the terms described above is ultimately ratified, Barak’s offer constitutes reckless irresponsibility. Should Barak initial such an American-brokered agreement and the Knesset and/or a subsequent government reject it, Israel will stand branded in the eyes of the world as the obstacle to peace and become a pariah nation.
And not just in the eyes of the world. In any subsequent confrontation with the Palestinians, large numbers of young Israelis might refuse to serve on the grounds that their country is the guilty party.
In seeking such an agreement, Barak has effectively shown that he prefers civil war to confrontation with the Palestinians. It is possible to imagine a scenario in which a large majority of Israelis agree that isolated settlements have to be evacuated. But no such consensus exists today. A majority of Israelis today reject offering Arafat settlements as a reward for initiating violence. Evacuating the settlements without a national consensus is a recipe for civil war.
For the last three months, Barak has spoken of the "lessons" learned from the intifada. What, one wonders, are those lessons?
Not, it seems, the lesson of Lebanon: Flight in the face of casualties convinces our enemies that Israel cannot take even a few months of low-level conflict or absorb casualites. The Palestinians have repeatedly cited the Lebanon precedent in recent months, and, as Daniel Pipes has argued convincingly, the Arab states today are more confident of their ability to fight a war with Israel than they have been in decades. For Barak to sue for "peace" under fire and offer yet further concessions to Arafat, after repeatedly declaring that the Palestinians will gain nothing from violence, can only reinforce Arab perceptions of Israeli weakness and vulnerability.
Not the lesson that the Israeli Arab population indentifies with the Palestinian cause and can be easily ignited into another front of the intifada. Nevertheless, Israel stands prepared to admit 100,000 or more radicalized Palestinians. A dangerous move even if all those Palestinians, and their children, and their children’s children always vote for the Labor candidate for prime minister.
Not the lesson that weapons in the hands of the Palestinians endanger the lives of Israelis. By granting Arafat sovereignty over Arab neighborhoods in and around Jerusalem, we would turn dozens of Jerusalem neighborhoods into potential Gilos. Forty thousand rifles in the hands of the Palestinians are child’s play compared to the armnaments that would be amassed after the creation of an independent Palestinian state in all the territory captured in 1967.
Not the lesson that the Palestinians seek the destruction of Israel and that their continual incitement against Israel and Jews precludes any genuine peace. Two months ago even Barak and Shlomo Ben-Ami recognized that Arafat is not a "peace partner." With elections coming, however, Barak has once again been seized by the Oslo fetish with signed (albeit unenforced) agreements. He has thereby fully vindicated Arafat’s strategy of alternating violence and negotiations and granted Arafat his greatest wish – the ability to claim that he won his state with blood.
Like Hitler, the Palestinians are remarkably frank about their goals. Not one Palestinian spokesman has ever renounced the claim to all of Palestine. The "moderates" would settle for a bi-national state with an unlimited right of return. Israel does not appear in one PA map or textbook.
Even before the renewal of the intifada, Palestinian TV broadcast a "sermon" every Friday on the religious obligation of participating in jihad to recapture Palestine. In the same period, PA television repeatedly screened "scenes" of Israeli soldiers gang-raping Palestinian girls after killing their families. Holocaust denial by senior Palestinian officials and celebration of martyrdom and terrorist acts against Israelis are all staples of Palestinian TV, even in the lull between outbreaks of violence.
The violent hatred of Israelis and Jews stirred by these broadcasts has increased exponentially over the past three months of non-stop broadcasts of the funerals of "martyrs" and hysterical atrocity stories of Israeli missile and helicopter barrages aimed at civilian populations and attacks on the refugee camps by settlers and the IDF.
If in the face of these lessons, Barak still plans to press on with "Camp David plus," let him come to the Israeli people and tell them clearly what he is prepared to concede and explain to them why such an agreement increases Israel’s long-term chances of survival. If the Palestinians are ready to accept those offers today, they will also do so in two months.
In the meantime, as he himself recognized by calling for new elections, Barak has no right to negotiate, and then present a signed agreement to the Israeli public marked, "Accept this or it’s all-out war." By doing so he will only have emboldened our enemies further, making such a war more likely, put every subsequent Israeli government in an untenable position and further endangered Israel’s international standing, and sewn the seeds for the most bitter internal strife yet. In the process, he has fully earned George Will’s accolade: "the most dangerous leader every foisted on any democracy."
A heavy price indeed just to remain prime minister.
Related Topics: Israeli Society, Peace Process
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