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Translation of an article to be published
in Ma'ariv on March 13, 2000

Learns quickly and draws conclusions quickly:
Barak's New Plan

by Uri Avnery

One thing has to be said for Ehud Barak: He learns quickly. Learns quickly and draws conclusions quickly.

Coming to power, he believed that he would solve the Palestinian problem easily. He would quickly make peace with the Syrians, completely isolate the Palestinians and then make them an "offer they can't refuse": Israel will recognize a de-militarized Palestinian state in most of the West Bank and the Gaza strip, keeping control over all Palestinian sea and air ports and border passages with Jordan and Egypt; Israel will annex "settlement blocs" constituting some 25% of the territories; the Palestinians will give up Jerusalem and the Right of Return and declare that that's that -- the end of the conflict.

Well, it appears that that's not so easy. Barak has learned that Arafat is a much harder nut to crack than he looks, and that the Palestinians are not as weak as they look. Arafat refused the "offer he can't refuse". On the horizon loomed a different vision: the Palestinians will declare their state on September 13, 2000 without Israeli consent, Israel will annex the "settlement blocs" without Palestinian consent, all the world (except Micronesia and the Fiji islands) will recognize the State of Palestine, no state (except the Fiji islands and Micronesia) will recognize the Israeli annexation. All this will happen in a state of confrontation, there may be bloodshed, the conflict will come to a head.

Barak makes now a much less ambitious offer. Not a "permanent solution" but another interim period. The State of Palestine will come into being on September 13 with Israeli consent in 50% the West Bank and the Gaza strip; Israel will annex "settlement blocs" comprising 10%, with Palestinian consent. The other 40% will remain open for the time being. The two states will start negotiations on all the other problems: the final borders between Israel and Palestine, Jerusalem, the refugees.

The proposal is based on the assumption that an abyss divides the positions of the two sides. The political and psychological situation in Israel does not allow it to achieve real peace and reconciliation. The conflict will go on for a long time, but will be contained and turn into a conflict between two states.

That is the general idea being kicked around between Barak and his bunch of generals. It leaves many questions unanswered. For example: What will happen in the territory of 40%? Will creeping settlement continue there, creating new "settlement blocs" to be annexed in the future? Will the Israeli army be able to do there whatever it wants? Will Abu-Dis become the temporary capital of free Palestine? Will Israel continue to control the Palestinian ports and border passages? Will the new interim period by limited in time?

It is hard to believe that Arafat can accept this offer. Of course, it is very important for the Palestinians that their state be recognized immediately by Israel and the Unites States. But how can they give up the Green Line (the 1967 borders), which by itself leaves them only 22% of their original homeland? Even as an interim proposal, it is hard to swallow.

The Palestinians will make their own calculations. But even if they would accept, is the proposal good for peace, good for Israel?

Of course, any agreed settlement is better than the present situation, which may blow up any minute. But the question remains: is a "cheap" interim settlement better than an "expensive" peace?

I have already quoted a saying by Lloyd-George, the British Prime Minister who proposed to give the Irish their independence: "You cannot cross an abyss in two jumps". I believe that that is also true now. It is worthwhile to jump over the abyss and finish this conflict once and for all.

Peace can be achieved even before September, with the support of the whole world, if we are ready to pay the price: a Palestinian state in all the West Bank and the Gaza strip, the evacuation of the settlements, a rational compromise over Jerusalem, a generous solution of the refugee problem that we can live with.

Perhaps Barak is not strong enough to carry that through, and perhaps he and his generals are not yet ready for it psychologically. If so, further interim periods may be needed, until we get an able national leadership. But it must be clear that the wound will remain open and continue to fester.

This, then, is the task of the Israeli peace forces: to prepare Israeli public opinion for the solution without which there can be no reconciliation between the two peoples -- the reconciliation which will guarantee their security for generations to come.

Gush Shalom
[Visit the Settlement Special]

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