Issue 74 Download Archive Links Search Contact Us


The articles in this issue have been divided up into the following categories







Barak's View of the Future: Die or Separate

Israelis and the Palestinians just can’t live together, says Camp David’s peacemaker
by Lally Weymouth

In his first interview since he was defeated last February, former Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak sat down and discussed Camp David, Yasir Arafat and the bleak legacy of his peacemaking efforts with Newsweek’s Lally Weymouth. Excerpts:

WEYMOUTH: Is there any chance for Israel to arrive at a negotiated agreement with the Palestinians while Arafat is still in power?
My feeling is that we won’t have a peace agreement with Arafat. He’s not a Palestinian Sadat or a Palestinian King Hussein. Arafat turned to violence after Camp David. Camp David was a moment of truth ... It was an end to what Arafat had done for years - namely, talk in English about his readiness to make peace and in Arabic about eliminating Israel in stages. He decided that only by turning to violence could he once again create world sympathy. Arafat believed that pictures of young Palestinians facing Israeli tanks would compensate for his failure. His indifference to Palestinian casualties and loss of life ... is a kind of a Palestinian tragedy. If they were a democratic society they would replace him.

There are reports that the Israeli cabinet Is considering authorising the Army to enter Palestinian territories to eliminate the Palestinian Authority and get rid of Arafat. Do you favour this?
It should be a last resort, an option we are willing to contemplate only if all other options have not worked and we have gathered international support. It could easily boomerang and prompt international intervention in ways that might hurt Israel’s interest. If there is a major clash and the world does not understand why Israel is acting, we might end up with an imposed solution which would be against our interest

Do you approve of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s policy of restraint?
Sharon is doing the right thing by combining an active campaign against terrorists, with restraint against wider operations that could harm the civilian population.

Looking back, do you think you made too many concessions at Camp David?
I am confident that we did the right thing for the future of Israel. When I took power, there was only one path that I found reasonable - either to unmask Arafat or to take calculated risks if we found him a Palestinian Sadat, ready to put an end to the conflict.

Are you saying you went to Camp David to expose Arafat?
No. Arafat is a highly sophisticated and cunning rival. He is not easy to penetrate, and it’s not easy to understand his real intentions. Oslo was based on a set of assumptions that if he was recalled from Tunisia to Gaza and the West Bank, if a kind of political authority was established for him and he was exposed to meeting the daily needs of his own people, if he was treated as a future leader of a state, this would transform him from a leader of a terrorist organization into a responsible leader of a future state. So it was not a conspiracy or a trick to push Arafat into a trap. You cannot know the other side’s intentions without being willing to take certain risks.

What did you think the chances were?
At the beginning I thought it was maybe 50-50. Maybe it was just his way to delay
the moment of truth and reach it with the maximum political capital. But during and after Camp David, it became clear that we didn’t have the kind of leader we hoped for, that could make the decisions, a Sadat-like leader. Then it became important to expose him. That was the pre-condition for the Israeli unity which Sharon enjoys.

What exactly did you offer at Camp David?
It was not these details that led to its failure. Formally, they were not our suggestions but ideas raised by the American president. Ninety to ninety one per cent [of the West Bank] would be transferred to the Palestinians in exchange for a one per cent territorial swap.

How was Jerusalem going to be divided?
The [Clinton] administration’s idea was that we would take the Jewish neighborhood, and Arafat would take most of the Arab neighborhoods. Certain neighborhoods would be under a special regime or a kind, of joint management.

What about the Temple Mount?
The president suggested an arrangement under which they would have a custodian sovereignty while we had overall sovereignty. The real objective of Camp David was to know if we had a serious partner who was ready to accept such far-reaching ideas as a basis for an agreement.

You were ready to give up the Jordan Valley, which Rabin said was strategically crucial.
In exchange for an end to the Israeli-Arab conflict, we were ready to contemplate far-reaching risks. But Arafat refused. He said, "I cannot take these ideas as a basis for negotiation. And I demand the right of return and full sovereignty over the Temple Mount". This is a euphemism for the elimination of Israel, and no Israeli government will accept it. There is a thin line between a calculated risk and yielding to terror. I never intended to cross this line.

People criticise you for not having built a personal rapport with Arafat before and at Camp David.
It’s ridiculous. Can you remember what kind of rapport existed between Begin and Sadat? They hardly talked to each other, but they were leaders.

Some say you made a mistake to start negotiating with Syria and that by the time you turned to Arafat it was too late.
No, it was clear [Syrian President Hafez] Assad was ageing, and after he died we would enter along period of uncertainty.

But you pulled out of Lebanon and did not get an agreement with Syria. Was that a mistake?
No, it was not a mistake. It takes two to make an agreement. Toward the end Assad was gradually becoming more and more focused on the succession process.

Do you believe the separation from the Palestinians is the only way out?
I believe, in the long term, the strategic need of Israel is disengagement from the Palestinians.

Sharon says separation is impossible.
I think he’s wrong and it’s imperative.

So how will it work? Will you have a poor Palestinian state living side by side with a wealthy Israel?
Every attempt to leave us with one political unit, west of the Jordan River will end up with either a bi-national state or an apartheid system-but clearly not a jewish democratic state. The only answer is to establish a border for Israel in which we will have a solid Jewish majority for generations to come. It might take three or four years to delineate the lines around settlement blocks. At the beginning, I would not dismantle settlements. But in due time, I would take isolated settlements into the settlement blocks or into Israel proper.I would announce formally that we leave the door open for the Palestinians to resume negotiations based on Camp David without any precondition, except for the absence of violence.

Is Oslo dead?
Once Oslo’s assumptions collapsed, it cast a disturbing shadow in retrospect on what has happened since 1996. Maybe Arafat cheated all of us. I put an end to the process of giving him more and more land just to find out in the end that we gave him everything [and got nothing in return].

Are you going to come back to politics soon?
It’s not on the table right now.

Why did you meet such rejection in the last election, considering you had taken incredible risks for peace?
It was clear to me, especially in the last few months, that by pursuing this policy I was taking a big political risk. Sharon was telling people, "Rely on me. I will solve it easily.." I knew if he won, he would end up doing basically what I had done. It was clear to me that by sticking to these policies I risked a kind of personal and political defeat But I have done it all my life.

Was It worth it?
I did the right thing for my country, and I never look backward. When the time comes for the Palestinians to have a Sadat-like leader, we will end up with a favourable agreement and then with permanent peace along the same lines shaped by us at Camp David.

Do you think that time will come?
It will take years.


Sharon's Option

Prime Minister Sharon cannot proceed from where Ehud Barak left off. He can only succeed by following a complete change of strategy.

Israel alone cannot solve the Palestinian problem, which must be regarded as a regional problem. All the Arab countries that waged successive wars on Israel and emboldened Arafat in his latest stance must contribute to a lasting settlement.

Fortunately, the new Bush administration has accepted this reality.

If you would like to make any comments or contribute to The Scribe please contact us.