Translation of the unabridged version of an article
published in Ma'ariv, October 25, 1999.
THE MARCH OF FOLLY
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
"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.