Translation of an article
to be published
in Ma'ariv on December 14, 1999
Sinai und Syrien:
Begin und Barak
by Uri Avnery
What is the connection between Ehud Barak and Menahem Begin?
Begin had a clear strategic concept. He wanted to acquire the whole of
Eretz-Israel. Therefore he saw -- rightly, from his point of view -- the
Palestinian as the eternal enemy. At the utmost, he saw them as hewers of
wood and drawers of water in Great Israel. "Autonomy for the inhabitants but
not for the territories", as he put it (taking his cue from his teacher and
master Vladimir Jabotinsky, who demanded such a status for the Jews in
Czarist Russia at the beginning of the century.)
In order to defeat the Palestinian
people and to eradicate it as a national entity, Begin planned to cut it off
from any possible support by the Arab states. Therefore he paid Anwar Sadat
a very heavy price: The return of the vast territories of Sinai and the
dismantling of all Israeli settlements there. The Town of Yamit, the jewel
in the crown of settlement, was razed to the ground, a monument to Begin's
I have no doubt that Begin was ready to
do the same on the Syrian front. The borders of Eretz-Israel, as shown in
the official emblem of Begin's Irgun underground organization, included
neither the Golan nor Sinai. They were the borders of the British mandate
from the early twenties. A peace agreement with Syria, after the peace
agreement with Egypt (and the informal peace agreement with King Hussein,
which was there all the time) would have closed the encirclement of the
Palestinian people and left it defenseless at the mercy of Israel.
Why, then, didn't Begin finish the job?
Because Hafez al-Assad was not yet ready. The Cold War was at it's height,
Syria could count on the Soviet Union. After the "treachery" of Sadat, Assad
hoped to become the leader of the Arab world. And, first of all, the mental
powers of Begin were ebbing away. Arial Sharon, a man bereft of any serious
strategic thinking, seduced Begin into invading Lebanon in order to destroy
the PLO, and contrary to his promise, he compelled the Syrian army to become
involved in the war.
Barak is continuing Begin's strategy.
He is determined to do in the Golan what Begin did in Sinai: To return the
territory and to dismantle the settlements, in order to get the Syrians out
of the conflict and to isolate the Palestinians completely.
However, there is an important
difference between the two. Barak, like Begin, knows that the Palestinian
problem is the heart of the Israeli-Arab conflict, but while Begin wanted to
eradicate the national existence of the Palestinian people, Barak is ready
to offer them a minimal solution. He has decided on a "permanent status"
that gives the Palestinian a mini-state, comprising some 15% of the land
between the Jordan river and the Mediterranean, after tearing off the
"settlement blocs" from the West Bank and annexing them to Israel. The
exterior borders of the Palestinian state will be controlled by Israel, as
well as its economy and water resources. Jerusalem and the refugees are not
to be discussed at all.
Barak wants to impose this "solution"
as an offer the Palestinians can't refuse. For this purpose, the
Palestinians have to be completely isolated. To achieve this, he will accede
to practically all Syrian demands. The price will be heavy, but from the
point of view of Barak it will be worthwhile. In return he hopes to achieve
an end of the conflict as well as much better permanent borders for Israel.
Will this really bring an end to the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Of course not. If we understand that, what
should be our attitude towards this peace with Syria?
We were faced with the same problem
some twenty years ago, when Begin signed his peace agreement with Sadat. It
was clearly a separate peace, part of Begin's anti-Palestinian strategy.
Some of us in the Sheli peace party leadership, including General Matti
Peled, Me'ir Pa'il' Ya'acov Arnon and others, pondered this problem. We
decided that a peace activist cannot object to any peace agreement, faulty
as it may be. The most important point for us was that the agreement creates
a powerful precedent of giving back territory and dismantling settlements.
Therefore, as a member of the Knesset at the time, I voted for Begin's
agreement, while many in Begin's own party voted against.
I believe that now, too, we must be in
favor of the agreement with Syria, because of the same reasons. Of course,
the Palestinians will not surrender and will demand for themselves the same
terms as the Syrians: A return to the pre-1967 borders and evacuation of all
Whoever wants a real peace and a real
historical reconciliation will struggle for this solution.
Translation of the
unabridged version of an article to be published
in Ma'ariv on December 14, 1999.
the Settlement Special]