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in Ma'ariv on August 02, 2000

For Three Transgression

by Uri Avnery / 29.o7.oo

For three transgressions of Barak, and for four, I will not turn away thereof*: because of the arrogance, the ignorance and the lack of leadership.
(* Paraphrasing the Book of Amos 1.)

The arrogance

This is the disease of occupation officers. They are unable to look at Arabs as equals. The contempt for Arabs has penetrated their soul and disarranged their mind.

When Arafat said in the past that he will never give up sovereignty over the holy places of Islam, Nobody listened. An Arab is babbling something, so what. "We know the Arabs". An Arab always cheats, evades, prevaricates, quibbles, equivocates, lies, schemes, tricks. He is sneaky by nature.

The attitude towards the Arab - any Arab - is like that of the border policeman towards an old Arab at the checkpoint. There is never any real negotiation, which would mean listening to him, trying to understand his motives, to find the way for a compromise. What for?

An Arab must be told what to do. One has to make him an offer he can't refuse and to demand an "answer". An Arab has to "internalize" what we tell him. An Arab has to "mature". One has to "make it clear" to him. (All these are now preferred Hebrew expressions.) If the Arab does not accept what you tell him, "there is nobody to talk with".

So says the general, and so say and write his media stooges, correspondents, commentators, "our special correspondents for…"

Throughout the summit not one single word of courtesy, respect, not to mention appreciation, appeared in the Israeli media about the Palestinian delegation and its leader. After all, our side is always talking to them logically, offering them more than is reasonable. We always know what's good for them. And they always refuse. They are "obstinate".

It sounds like this: Barak "stays true to his red lines". Arafat "clings to his extreme positions". Barak "has succeeded to extract from them far-reaching concessions" (settlement blocs, recognition of the legality of the settlements, abolition of the Green Line, recognition of West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel - first in the world - and what not.) Arafat "was unwilling to give up anything". Barak "took the responsibility" and decided alone. Arafat does not take advice from his assistants and "decides everything by himself". And so forth, day after day.

When one comes to think of it, there is quiet a lot of chutzpah in Barak's behavior. After all, he is still a rookie as a national leader and, until now, has not succeeded in anything (except the withdrawal from the "security zone" in Lebanon, which he himself has helped to set up) - while Arafat has led his people from the brink of national extinction to the threshold of independence. He is now the most senior personality in the Arab world.

The Ignorance

Everyone who knows anything about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict knows that it is quiet impossible for Arafat to give up sovereignty over the holy shrines of Islam. But Barak's "experts" were certain that there is no problem. One only has to find the right gimmick, some brilliant formulation, and everything will turn out O.K. (in our pocket). All the well-meaning wise guys, from Yossi Beilin to Shlomo Ben-Ami, contributed their part. Al-Kuds instead of Jerusalem, Abu-Dis instead of the Temple Mount, embassy status for the Haram-al-Sharif, functional sovereignty, what not. And when Arafat did not swallow any of the baits and stuck to the simple formula of Arab sovereignty over East Jerusalem (considered by the whole world as occupied territory) they got angry. What a fool! How primitive can you get! He lost everything because of this stupid obstinacy!

It seems that Barak has no advisor who understands the thinking and feelings of the Palestinians. His emissaries have met with Palestinian dignitaries in posh villas, but have never met with real people. Army intelligence evaluations that have been wrong at every turn in the history of the conflict, were wrong again.

Arab culture places much weight on personal contact, personal gestures, the generosity of the strong. But Barak, who has insisted on calling this summit, has resolutely refused to meet with Arafat. For 10 days, 24 hours a day, he was staying a hundred yards from the Palestinian leader without visiting him or inviting him in, even for a cup of coffee. "His body language expressed loathing," the Israeli correspondents reported eagerly, "at the official dinner, when he was sitting next to Arafat, he devoted all his attention to young Chelsea." Perhaps he wants to make peace with her.

The lack of leadership

True, Barak has gone further than any of his predecessors. He has helped to demolish the stupid mantra of "Jerusalem eternal capital bla-bla-bla". But when he reached the brink of the abyss and had to jump over it, he didn't jump. This was the test. The de Gaulle test. The Ben-Gurion test. The Begin test at Camp David. Failing this test dwarfs everything else.

In history there is the split of a second when a true leader shows his colors. At such a moment Martin Luther said: "Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise. So help me God." Without squinting sideways. Without looking back. Barak has failed this decisive test. He was afraid to tell the public that there can be no peace without giving up sovereignty over the Temple Mount, and rely on it to support him.

Another sin

Barak went to Camp David with a double strategic plan - a maximal and a minimal.

The maximal plan was to achieve peace - the Barak peace. He wanted to put Arafat between the arms of a nutcracker - Clinton and himself. The Americans took the Israeli proposal, changed a little here and there and put it forward as the American offer. It was far from the Palestinian minimum. Arafat, a tough nut, didn't crack.

Like the good general he is, Barak had prepared in advance an alternative plan for this eventuality: to put all the blame on Arafat. In this he has succeeded, with the assistance of a vast brainwashing campaign, for which the Israeli media willingly volunteered. Instead of leading a campaign for peace, he mobilized it for justifying failure.

His main agent is Clinton. The President's interview on Israeli TV was disgraceful. Breaking his solemn promise not to blame either side in case of failure, he put the whole blame squarely on Arafat. He nearly declared war on the Palestinian people, vowing to prevent their declaration of independence, to choke them economically, and worse, if they dare to disobey. He promised to transfer the US embassy to Jerusalem, to pay indemnities to the Jewish immigrants from Arab states (of course, at the expense of the Palestinian refugees) and to upgrade the Israeli army.

Suddenly, the mask of the impartial peacemaker fell off. No more honest broker, trying to build a bridge between the two sides. Instead, there appeared again the old American politician, wooing the American-Jewish vote.

Clinton's motives are both obvious and cynical: He wants to help his wife to win the elections in New York. But the damage he has caused this week is irreversible: He has stuck a knife in the back of the Israeli and Palestinian peace camps. He has destroyed any chance of further useful American mediation. He has destroyed Barak's ability to move forward. If the US says that Israel has already done more than enough, why should the Israeli public agree to any more concession? He has created among the Palestinians a mood of "the whole world is against us", discouraging any inclination to moderation. So much for Clinton and the Nobel peace prize.

The big propaganda machine soothes us: Nothing bad has happened, this is just the beginning, negotiations go on, there will be another summit, Arafat will "mature" and accept Barak's terms. Arafat, too, has an interest in calming the situation for now, so as to prevent hostilities before the declaration of the state.

But this is the calm before the storm. Whatever has been spoiled will not be easily put right in further summits. Positions have sharpened, battle-lines drawn. Now it will be difficult to bring things back to where they were. Perhaps the "window of opportunity" has closed, a historic opportunity missed.

They say that Barak learns quickly. That he can draw conclusions, change directions. Let's hope. Let's hope that he will do so before the next war.

Otherwise, the final judgement will be: 
The man is a general. O n l y a general.

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Gush Shalom

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