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in Ma'ariv on July 10, 2000

Let's hope for Ehud:
Barak's Last Chance

by Uri Avnery / o8.o7.oo

If Ehud Barak will come back from Camp David without an agreement, he can go straight home. There is no sense in his returning to his office in Jerusalem.

He repeats constantly that he was elected "by the people" in order to make peace. Indeed, that was the one task that was on the public's mind. Everything else was secondary.

But during all his first year in office, Barak has not made one single step towards peace. Not one.

On the contrary, he has destroyed the confidence that the Palestinians initially had in him. He has broken nearly all his obligations towards them. He has intensified the building of settlement beyond the record of Netanyahu. Even now he is building "by-pass roads", whose only purpose is to cut off great slices of Palestinian territory and annex them to his "settlement blocs". The saga of the return of Abu Dis has become a joke. He has not set free the Palestinian prisoners-of-war. He continues to use the old language of war. (For example, he never uses the term "the Palestinian people", always speaking of "Palestinians" instead. He never uses the word "peace" in connection with the Palestinians, speaking instead of a "permanent status".)

Already at the very beginning of his term, his decisions were odd. He took into his coalition the Mafdal, the party of the settlers, sworn enemies of peace, and the racist band of Sharansky. He left the Arab parties out. Some saw in this a brilliant machiavellian manipulation. Today one sees what it was: a stupid gimmick.

The bulk of his secular voters, who shouted on election day "Only Not Shass!" were ready, nevertheless, to have Shass in the government, in order to ensure a big majority for peace. Many (including myself) were ready to pay the orthodox a huge bribe for their support of a peace policy. Now it appears that Barak paid them a whore's reward without getting anything in return. As in the old joke, the orthodox sold their grandmother but refuse to deliver the goods.

Throughout the year, Barak has pampered the settlers, who are spitting in his face now, while treating the peace movements with contempt. Now he complains that the streets are flooded with anti-peace posters without any peace posters in sight. The peaceniks have gone home. (The radical peace movements, like Gush Shalom, who have continued to act in spite of everything, were ignored by the so-called "leftist" media, which gave big publicity to every demonstration of a handful of right-wing settlers.)

The whole strategy of the famous general has come crushing down. He has no government, there is no mobilized force of peace activists, neither is there any confidence that he can bring peace. There is no enthusiasm for peace, no vision of peace. Barak, too, has no such vision. He goes to the summit in order to induce President Clinton to compel Arafat to accept an Israeli diktat, an agreement that no Palestinian can accept. His foreign minister, David Levy, a serial peace-killer, complains that "Arafat wants everything". "Everything" means all the territories beyond the Green Line, which constitute a mere 22% of the territory of Palestine under the British mandate. What Palestinian impertinence!

If the summit comes to nothing, it is clear that Barak will put on Arafat all the blame for the bloody confrontation that will surely follow. What next? Either Barak will invite Ariel Sharon into a National Unity government, in which Sharon will be dominant and Barak himself will be superfluous, or the government will fall and Netanyahu will be elected again. There will be no obvious reason for electing a man who has failed in making peace, turned the state over to the orthodox and empowered the settlers, a Prime Minister who has not succeeded in anything, except a tiny improvement in the economy and the quickly forgotten withdrawal from South Lebanon.

There is, of course, another possibility. Barak can go to Camp David, throw into the waste-paper bin all the plans he is taking with him and do as Begin did there 22 years ago: Return all the territories beyond the June 4, 1967 border, dismantle all the settlements and make a peace based on mutual respect between the two peoples and the two states.

If Barak returns from Camp David with such an agreement and exhibits it with courage and conviction, at the helm of a government devoted to peace and including Meretz, the Arab factions, Amir Peretz, the Center and perhaps Lapid, supported by the United States, all of Europe and most of the Arab states - he will regain his lost public and get a big majority in a referendum.

But for this, Ehud Barak has to overcome Ehud Barak. Let's hope he can do this.

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Gush Shalom


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