Barak used the Oslo summit to lay his cards on table. They were fully consistent with a number of non-negotiable principles, or ‘red lines’ in the local term, which he had banded about since being elected. Barak’s red lines determine that 1) ‘Greater’ Jerusalem – will remain in its entirety under exclusive Israeli sovereignty; 2) Israel will establish three settlement blocs in the West Bank in wherein almost all the settlements will remain under Israeli sovereignty; 3) Israel will not only refuse to return to the June 1967 borders: it will demand some fifty per cent of the West bank territory for settlement blocks and security zones. 4) Israel will not discuss the repatriation of a single Palestinian refugee, though it is willing to participate, along with other countries in a possible international effort for the settlement of the refugees, including possible settlement in the area under Palestinian control. 5) Israel will express a willingness to recognize a Palestinian state conditional upon a number of essential restrictions. Among these: a) the Palestinians must sign on to a final and irrevocable agreement based on the above stipulations, 1-4; b) the state be limited in its arms level and it ability to sign accords with third parties.
He Means It
Barak tends to believe that the Palestinians will have to accept such a deal, since they do not have any alternative. The bitter pill of capitulation on the major Palestinian demands will be sugar coated by international recognition of a sovereign state. Since the international community has embraced Barak as a peacemaker, he believes that it will accept his interpretation of what it takes to end the conflict. Barak will move to convince the international community that Israeli public opinion and internal politics simply cannot countenance any concessions beyond his ‘red lines’ and that any attempt to go beyond them would be tantamount to political suicide for any Israeli leader. Barak sees the final status negotiations as the means to work out the details and the implementation of his policy along the above mentioned red lines.. The peace forces in the country have sensed for quite a while that Mr Barak is not actually a genuine alternative to his predecessor. However, Barak was shrewd enough to couple the introduction of his non-negotiable ‘red lines’ policy with some flexibility on slight incremental steps such as the re-negotiation of the Wye Accord, a very modest prisoner release and the partial opening of the safe passage route from Gaza to the West. Thus, people of good will can see some evidence of progress and still hope for the best. Moreover, many who know that, given Barak’s policies, peace is impossible, would like to convince themselves that Barak’s ‘red lines’ are just an opening position on the eve of some hard bargaining.
Theoretically, this is possible, but it is highly unlikely. Should Barak begin to seriously negotiate issues which he has declared non-negotiable, he will open himself to charges of deceit. This kind of deception would be grist for the mill of the right and its political vanguard among the settlers would have a field day denouncing Barak’s capitulation. They will be able to quote copious statements by him as to why it would be dangerous to do anything like making the concessions that are necessary for peace.. It is much more reasonable to assume that if he was serious about negotiating real solutions instead of imposing his policies, he would find a way to prepare the public, the overwhelming majority of which would support him. The evidence suggests that he believes that he can impose a settlement. And if not, there is an increasing amount of indicators that he is preparing for the possible collapse of the talks. Thus, if and when the talks fail, he wishes to hide behind the need to honor this so-called “national consensus” for which he bears major responsibility. Thus, with his famous, or should we say infamous red lines, Barak has converted an authentic consensus for peace and concessions which emerged after the May 1999 elections into what purports to a consensus for obstinate intransigence and the collapse of the peace process.
Wednesday, November 10, 1999
Wednesday, November 3, 1999
Citigroup, the world’s biggest financial complex (3,400 branches in 100 countries and 165,000 employees) held a reception in Tel Aviv last week (Ha’aretz, November 1,1999) in order to announce their decision to open a branch in Tel Aviv. All the pillars of the local financial community, including Frenkel and the heads of the big local banks were out in full force to greet the newcomers.
Be Nice and Smile Even if it Hurts
Small fish do not usually welcome sharks into their small pond. However, there are many local financial wizards and business people who go by the theory that our local economy will somehow profit by the appearance of this giant Wall Street firm in the neighborhood. The hope is that if the big guys are interested in our turf, maybe there is more gold under it than we had assumed. Moreover, even if some of the local people were unhappy about the possibility that Citigroup will scoop up some of their clients, they were not going to show it or anger Citigroup by turning down the invitation to celebrate the occasion.
Citigroup’s New Boss
In an unrelated development, Citigroup made the international news last week announcing that it has a brand new boss, former U.S. Treasury Secretary, Robert Rubin, who was appointed on October 27, 1999 as a member of the firm’s three person directorate. The appointment followed Rubin’s decision a short while ago to leave Federal “service.” The U.S. economy did quite well under Rubin, so no one demanded a “cooling off” period. What could be more natural than the return of Rubin, former head of Goldman Sachs, to another central spot in the US financial oligarchy: From Wall Street to Washington D.C. and back to Wall Street. Our sense of logic and harmony are served by such smooth rotations.
Elegant Cattle Show
Just a small note on Rubin’s past activity will help to demonstrate how precisely the superb balance between money and politics is maintained. In February 1999, the International Herald Tribune ran a series analyzing the immediate background for the devastating crisis that ripped through Asia, Russia, Brazil and other countries from 1997 onwards. The crisis, which involved immense suffering for hundreds of millions of people, could not have happened were it not for ‘vulnerabilities’ fostered by Clinton-Rubin sponsored changes in the workings of international finance.
Our story returns to the beginning of the decade, when Bob and Bill first met.These were the circumstances.
“They were serious men, prosperous and pinstriped and they derided ‘he politics of class warfare’ as they conducted a job interview with a young governor from Arkansas. It was a steak dinner…in New York in June 1991 and the top Democratic executives on Wall Street were ….in one of a series of meetings with presidential aspirants in what an organizer called ‘an elegant cattle show.’”
“They were questioning a man with a meager salary but a silver tongue and this was another show in which Bill Clinton charmed his way forward to a blue ribbon……Aides describe that evening as an important step in the business education of Clinton, who came to repeat and amplify the themes, especially the need to move away from protectionism and push for more open markets in Asia and all over the world. It was the first time that Clinton met Rubin, from Goldman Sachs & Co. and the two men ..eventually forged a close partnership that has left an enormous imprint on the global economy. Clinton and Rubin took the American passion for free trade and carried it further to press for freer movement of capital…” (IHT, February 16, 1999)
Life has its ups and downs. Clinton will soon be out of a job. Bob Rubin is doing better. He has a new one. And his business will even have a branch in Tel Aviv.
Friday, October 1, 1999
Certainly, one of the greatest difficulties in disseminating and teaching revolutionary ideas is the commonly held belief that modern revolution has failed. The fall of the Communist regime in the former Soviet Union and the retreat by China from socialist principles are deemed conclusive proof that socialism is a failure, that and it cannot work as it is opposed to human nature. This thesis appears to be supported by the tremendous gap in living standards between the leading capitalist countries and those of Russia and China.
These are potent images and can only be countered by a rigorous examination of the historical record. This examination demands that we separate between two highly interrelated spheres of social reality – politics and economics. Socialist theory posited the advantages of a planned economy based on the social ownership of the main means of production. It is the author’s thesis, that despite the difficulties involved in the establishment of a new set of social relationships, socialism did prove itself in the tremendous advancement of the economies of the countries which did choose the socialist path. Furthermore, it is the writer’s deepest belief that socialist advantages and gains fell victim to objective obstacles and subjective errors of a political nature.
Naturally enough, as the two fields of social activity – economics and politics - are always highly interrelated, it is no simple matter to untwine and separate their specific role in any concrete situation. The writer is aware that the attempt to separate and distinguish between these two elements poses serious methodological difficulties. One way to make this distinction is to analyze the fate of bourgeois revolutions. Is it correct to say that the French revolution failed when Napoleon destroyed the political foundations of bourgeois freedoms and democracy? It could be argued that the that the fall of French democracy did not eliminate the developing capitalism relations of production. Yes, but capitalism did not need the protection of an organized, militant socialist state.
It has already been argued that specific circumstances hurt and curtailed the ability of socialism to grown and develop. The oft quoted example is the siege imposed on the young Soviet Union by the West after the October Revolution. This example is helpful in a narrow sense, but misleading in a more basic analysis. Even if there were no immediate dangers involved in the intervention, the blockade and the siege, the political realities both in the USSR and in the international arena dictated essential elements of policy. The concrete historical experience of socialist revolution has been that society was forced to allocate huge portions of the societal funds to sections and projects dictated by political realities. One can continue to argue regarding the necessity of this or that specific policy, this or that specific political response to pressures, but one can state with a great degree of certainty that no socialist country ever came near to enjoying the fruits of its socialist advance. Many of those fruits, which were the most concrete evidence of the vitality and the capacity of the socialist system, were diverted to non-economic projects connected to political needs, both real and imaginary.
Yuri P. tells of gigantic defense expenses incurred by the Chinese when Mao decided to set up a “third line” of defense. The Chinese (or Mao or both), in the sixties, became convinced that they would have to fight a new war against the United States of the USSR, or both. They also were certain that in order to continue fighting after their enemies would pierce two main lines of their defense, survival depended on the establishment of a gigantic, complete military industrial complex in inaccessible parts of the country. One cannot even begin to imagine the resources diverted to this project or scheme. Those resources were created by China’s socialist system, despite its primitive foundations and then skinned off the considerable surplus. This is just one of the many examples where the advantages of socialist system of production were utilized – or even sacrificed – in order to serve political needs.
This is not to argue that the two areas – the economic and the political can or should be separated in the strategic thinking of the political leadership. The close linkage between the two elements is almost inevitable. However, there is every reason to make an analytical distinction between the two elements in order to expose and contradict the crass propaganda to the effect that socialism was a failure in the USSR and China. Socialism and socialist construction, on the contrary, proved their economic efficacy, by every rational criterion.
Success and Failure
We all have an understandable tendency to categorize complex questions in a way that will allow us to answer them simply. This is especially true regarding the highly complex and complicated question of the success or failure of the 20th century’s socialist experiment. It is true that the Soviet Union crumbled under the pressures of unsolved problems and it is true that the Chinese people are trying a rather unorthodox, even dangerous policy to avoid harsh reality. But these important and valid points are insufficient for answering the larger question of success and failure. The historical record and the immensity of the question and the problems it involves are so complex as to defy a simple yes or no answer to the question of failure or success.
There were two major efforts in this century to build a society designed to begin the march beyond slave labor and production for profit. Both established functioning societies that promised economic and social progress to the majority of their populace. Socialism eliminated starvation, gave land to the peasants, established universal elementary education, made enormous dents in illiteracy, made gigantic strides in public health and made a basic contribution to the modernization of production. At the very same time, in the same breath, it must be said that neither the USSR or China were close to ensuring the kind of standard of living that was enjoyed by enormous sections of society in the advanced capitalist societies.
The most reasonable explanation for the retreat from socialism in the USSR and in China stems from the economic impact of the unequal distribution of power and control. Bureaucratization and the need to build and then depend on technocratic sections of the economy created a new middle class. This class, though highly rewarded in comparative terms by society for their special talents, had more and more opportunity to sense its relative deprivation vis a vis their colleagues in the West. This class was vested with disproportionate influence and was especially adept at presenting problems and challenges in a manner that would ensure its own interests. The accession to pivotal possessions of power by the industrial bureaucracy and the technocratic strata was always camouflaged as a new stage in the liberalization of the system and a more elastic approach to economic and social life.
For a long time, the new middle class aspired to a Western standard of living.These aspirations were intensified when political conditions and sharp improvements in transportation and communication enabled the socialist middle classes to rub shoulders with their counterparts in the West. The psychological implications are obvious. I am a high ranking engineer in a socialist economy but I do not have my own car, my own private home in the suburbs, two vacations per annum abroad and many other perks that make life and the rigors of responsibility that much easier. If I live in a society with intensive ideological and educational inputs, these, when adopted, may serve to compensate for some of the gap. But with more and more normalcy, in an atmosphere where labor is exerted wholly or mainly in exchange for material compensation, the socialist middle class begins to chafe under the yoke. A society that cannot promise it adequate compensation for its skills appears more and more illogical and in dire need of reform or even replacement. The fact that these skills were purchased with the blood and the sweat of the laboring masses and enhanced by the socialist educational system is only of momentary interest. You will have quite a hard time convincing a Soviet or Chinese surgeon or the manager of a gigantic economic production trust that he or she does not deserve the same – or at the least comparable – remuneration, enjoyed by his or her colleague in Frankfort or San Francisco.
There are, of course, many additional conditions and circumstances which facilitate the retreat from socialism. Many of these, are by their very nature, highly specific and develop from the maturation of different contradictions. These include difficulties and even catastrophes stemming from bad policies. Here, I have found it necessary to concentrate on the social basis for capitalist restoration, because without this basis, it is doubtful whether the restoration tendencies could have matured and succeeded. Naturally enough, the path to capitalist restoration is paved with slogans on a return to multi-party parliamentary democracy, respect for human and political rights and other characteristics common to advanced capitalist countries. These conditions, as is well known, never existed in pre-socialist Russia or China. But, it is almost a commonplace to note that bourgeois promises and bourgeois realities are quite a different matter.
Paradoxically, it might emerge that the great historical vindication of socialism will be the sad fate of the Soviet peoples after the victory of capitalism in the former Soviet Union. The facts and the figures on the rape and the pillage of Soviet society and the socialist economy are there for everyone to see. As a matter of fact, the massive deterioration in living standards for the overwhelming majority of the Soviet people is not even being debated in the West. The current discussion centers on why capitalism has failed. The received wisdom back then on the eve of restoration was that capitalism, being the only really natural system, would simply grow and prosper by virtue of the elimination of all sorts of artificial, socialist restraints. Give the people a chance to work for themselves and make money and all the rest would fall into place. In the midst of the devastation, the misery, the falling mortality age Western experts have changed their tune. It appears that “human nature” in the former Soviet Union did not achieve the desired aim, because there is a problem of culture and the Russian culture doesn’t seem to take to the spirit of free enterprise. Free competition was suppose to be sufficient to free human nature, but after this didn’t work, it may take a bit of time until the Russians are acculturized to the spirit of capitalism.
China versus Russia – In Search of the Chinese Yeltsin
One does not have to be an acute observer to discern that society in the former USSR is in a state of disintegration, and that present day Russia just does not function. China, on the other hand, with its unique experiment of building socialism based on foreign capital and local private enterprise, with all its contradictions, is a dynamic, functioning society. I must stress openly at this point that I am pessimistic about the present Chinese path and fear that it might well auger a dangerous return to unrestricted capitalism. However, there are important indications that this is not inevitable and that the Chinese leadership may change course and move back in the direction of socialism.
The continued existence of a strong central leadership in all of China and the pivotal political role of the Communist Party are essential prerequisites for maintaining the socialist option in China. The “advice” of Wall Street Journal in its special issue devoted to the 50th Year celebration of the Chinese revolution is most revealing. Speaking for many representatives of capital in the West, the WSJ stresses that economic reform is not enough. It must be backed by political reforms. The problem that the WSJ and its allies have in this respect is that their program has been adopted and implemented in the former Soviet Union. There, economic reform- the reintroduction of the private ownership of the means of production – was combined with political reform: the reintroduction of the parliamentary pluralistic party system and the disappearance of any meaningful central control over a variety of national and ethnic entities. It is the considered opinion of the WSJ, and those it represents, that China will not enjoy the full benefits of modern capitalism and large scale investment, until the Communist Party will relinquish its political monopoly and each ethnic grouping, nationality, or region will be able to cut its own deal with international capital.
This is indeed a program designed to prostrate China economically and politically and put it at the mercy of international capital, which would love to add a defenseless, truncated 1,200,000 million people to the open markets of globalized capital. The warning signals coming out of the former Soviet Union are sufficient to warn the Chinese leadership that their many “new friends” among the scions of international business are bringing to China with their investments a political program for the murder (or perhaps suicide) of Chinese socialism.
Why the Present Chinese Path Appears Attractive
In China today, one cannot fail to be impressed by innumerable signs of construction, electronification, and the massive introduction of state of the art industry and technology. China is building and the hustle and bustle is felt all over the place.This burst of activity is attributed by all to the reformist line initiated by the Communist Party in 1987. The essence of this line is that China does not have the elementary economic prerequisites for building socialism and must develop its economy through the controlled introduction of capitalist relations of production.This would suggest that progress must be measured in decades and demanded infinite patience. However, as this line unfolds, we encounter a wholesale retreat from the gains made by socialism and the continuous rendering of the bonds of social solidarity. Unemployment is rife and trade unions are banned in projects financed by foreign capital. Health and education begin commodities and must be purchased and paid for on the market. And worst of all, the party has retreated from active intervention in the life of the village, where three-quarter of the Chinese people still dwell.
Why does capitalism seem to be working in China. The basic reason is that the Chinese people have made, through the implementation of the advantages of the socialist system, gigantic investments in social and human capital. These investments and a very important, though primitive infrastructure have made China a godsend for foreign capital. There is an almost inexhaustible reserve of skilled and highly professional labor which can be used for development at about 10% of what similar labor would cost in the advanced capitalist world. Subsides from the Chinese government (from the wealth of the Chinese people) promise free (valuable) real estate, tax breaks, immunity from laws on unfair labor practices and ecological considerations – and there is the avid and groveling attitude of the regime that tends to treat every venture capitalist as the messiah himself. The point is that it is going to be harder and harder to recognize the dangers emanating from social forces which want to go the whole way, back to a complete and total capitalism.
In this respect, the most problematic element of Chinese policy is to avoid the complexities of collective control in the village. The advantage is clear in that privatization of land and the liberation of capitalist initiative will ensure a surer and easier flow of foodstuffs and industrial crops to the city. But here is the difficulty. The land reform implemented by the revolution in the village, free health and education in the village electrification and the rudiments of modern agronomy were vital in ensuring the support by the peasantry for the revolution. Without a strong political presence based on peasants who gained from the revolution and stand to suffer from its reversal, capitalism will sneak back into the village in one hundred and one ways. The masses of the peasantry will have to resort to the new village bourgeois for every basic need beyond mere subsistence. The social and economic might of the capitalist peasantry (the neo-kulaks) will of necessity allay itself with other forces in the city which dream of a capitalist China. A massive reactionary force in the peasantry is just what is needed to sign a death warrant for socialism in that country. The village wealthy which followed the Communist Party slogan “It is Good to Become Rich” will find another party and another slogan which it will inscribe on its banner “It is Good to Exploit and to Stay Rich.”
Thursday, September 9, 1999
“Local thugs, rogue fighters of the Kosovo Liberation Army and Albanian gangs slipping across an uncontrolled border have taken advantage of the law enforcement vacuum to terrorize the Serbian and Gypsy minorities and drive them from their homes. The same violent elements also prey on Kosovar Albanians….” International Herald Tribune Editorial, August 7-8 1999
I have some friends on the left who consider the KLA as the legitimate expression of the Kosovar cause. Despite many warnings from neutral sources that the KLA is an ultra-chauvinist and reactionary force, some insisted that we consider them on par with the Viet Cong and the PLO. Why don’t we hear any protests from those who celebrated the victory of the NATO offensive concerning the anti-Serb pogroms and the ethnic cleansing now going on in Kosovo under the rule of the NATO victors?
According to Akiva Eldar (Ha’aretz, 9.8.99), Barak has confused everyone including Albright who, instead of admitting that she was confused, asked Barak to stop confusing the Palestinians. Eldar explains that the IDF is also confused. I had two thoughts. The first thought: If only Barak could remember what he was thinking about when he said to Arafat and the whole world that Wye is horrible and dangerous but he will implement it if Arafat insists – then he would be less confused and this might be a good start in dispelling some of the confusion. Israeli generals are generally less confused when they have to conquer territory than when they have to relinquish it.
In the fifties, the late Professor Yakov Talmon used to tell the following joke to packed lecture halls. He told the students that everyone knows what a liar is, but asked how would you define a really big liar. Talmon would elicit a roar of laughter by revealing that the definition of a really big liar is a diplomat. Talmon went on to ask the students, all of whom could define a fool, to define a really big fool. When Talmon explained that the best definition of a really big fool is a general (he used the Hebrew aloof) there was no laughter, nor was the joke well received.
A New Strategy for Fighting Zionism
A rather interesting thread developed on Alef (the BB of the academic left) under this heading. Unsurprisingly, many of the participants were looking for another opportunity to push the one-state solution, which has a tendency to appear on the horizon every time Oslo is in trouble. And that is quite often.
I am always a bit surprised at the high regard that many “one staters” have for Zionism and the powerful Israeli military-security complex. For some reason, many radicals are convinced that this single state, when it comes into existence, will have to be a democratic, “one-vote - one citizen,” affair. They seem to be convinced that the powerful and dominant forces which rule the country are really democratic. Otherwise, why do they believe that this country’s real rulers would accept the logic that a single state should be democratic and reflect the wishes and the interest of the Arab half of the population. Institutionalized racism, expropriation, emigration pressure, discrimination in the allocation of resources and an army and police force subject to the will of the Jewish majority are all perfectly compatible with the structure of a unitarian state. It is likely that a unitarian state would be that disgusting since the only real possibility for the creation of a single unitarian state in the given historical circumstances is through Israeli annexation of all, or most of the occupied territories.
There might be indeed one advantage to the creation of a unitarian state. It will probably prove, once and for all, that a Zionist state cannot be a democratic one. This thesis, which really does not need additional substantiation, would be verified once and for all – and spell the end of liberal Zionist hypocrisy. Is it possible that this is the reason that people on the radical left hope for such a development.
The main barrier to a decent solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the tremendous disparity in the relation of forces between the two sides to the conflict. One cannot evade this barrier by advocating a change in the form of the solution, by advocating a “one-state” instead of a “two-state” solution. In any event, a two-state solution, which seems more probable at this stage, must not and should not be seen as a blanket approval for the Oslo project and anything that may emerge from it.
There is a very important line of thinking which defines the minimum requirements for a just solution and evaluates Oslo according to its progress in that direction. The key is to demand national equality and full rights for the Palestinians and the Palestinian state. The closest relevant formula that we have for this purpose was and is 1) return to the June 1967 borders; 2) the right of the Palestinians to establish their capital in Jerusalem; 3) the dismantling of the settlements; 4) recognition by Israel of its responsibilities for the solution of the Palestinian refugee problem. This program, which admittedly faces enormous obstacles has two virtues. It can be presented with some hope for mass support to both Israeli and Palestinians and it can provide a minimal solution to the needs and aspiration of both peoples.
Long Live MacDonalds A few years back I won a small victory. Clark University had opened a branch in Ma’aleh Adumim. I met with their representatives and explained that MA is plainly and simply, conquered territory. It took a bit of time, but Clark was very decent about the whole thing and evacuated its branch to Shaarei Tsedek in Jerusalem. Now, there is a public international protest going on against Burger King for opening a branch in Ma’aleh Adumim. So, if you have to have a fast-food hamburger, go right to MacDonalds. That firm, headed by Omri Padan, formerly of Peace Now, has been very clear regarding its refusal to open any branch in the occupied territories. So the going anti-imperialist advice is to give your patronage to the Yellow Arch.
Wednesday, September 1, 1999
About ten days back, when the euphoria surrounding Barak’s victorious visit to the U.S. was at its height, I felt it necessary to express concern that many of Barak’s policies and political tendencies might frustrate hopes that he would be a key architect of a new and peaceful ME. Unfortunately, my concerns were all too justified. Barak, who came into power promising change, is rapidly wasting the good will which the public extended to him. This seems to be true in all major areas such as promises for clean government, transformation of the economy, etc. There are already indications that Barak is adopting a highly authoritarian style towards his colleagues, especially towards Yossi Beilin and Shlomo Ben-Ami. However, at this point, we must concentrate on the peace process, which is after all the critical test for Barak.
The newest element in the equation is a flood of serious criticism from liberal commentators and analysts, all of whom, there is basis to believe, were personally well disposed to Barak and shared the public desire to see a genuine shift in Israeli policy. It is almost like Barak refuses to understand that he has some hard decisions to make.
In the words of Ze’ev Schiff, Barak refuses to understand that the “party is over.” Analyzing the meager results of the most recent meeting with Arafat on July 26, 1999 at Erez checkpoint, Ze’ev Schiff, respected military correspondent for “Ha’aretz” wrote, “Now the grueling work must begin: Barak must pay his debts instead of dining off declarations and promises.” (Ha’aretz, July 27, 1999). Schiff questions whether Barak has any clear plans for continuing negotiations with the Palestinians, reminding his readers that Barak will be unable to satisfy both the settlers and the Palestinians for long.”
Getting out of Implementing Wye
Ostensibly, Ehud Barak’s request that the PA consider delaying implementation of [parts of] the Wye Accords was an innocuous affair. Barak has reiterated more than once that, if the Palestinians insist, he is prepared to implement the Accords. However, Barak has launched a full scale public campaign designed to explain why the delay is “good for the Palestinians.” Israeli propaganda is busy explaining that a Palestinian refusal to accept Barak’s argument for delay will be costly to the Palestinians and might indeed be the cause for failure of the entire peace process. Barak feeds the press with horror stories: “Imagine, he (Barak) said (to his American hosts) that Yasser Arafat and I reach an agreement to manufacture matches, but circumstances arise that would force the new product to be tested over an open barrel of fuel. I would suggest to my partner that he think ahead, close the barrel, allow the fumes to evaporate and only then conduct the test. If he agrees, fine. If not, we will conduct the test over the open barrel as planned – but he will have to be aware of the danger.” (Dan Margalit, Ha’aretz, July 26, 1997). This kind of threatening language is, of course, another warning from Barak who has been openly complaining that the last stage of the agreed Wye pullback retreat will leave 15 settlements in relative isolation. Arafat is supposed to understand that this may be a political or strategic problem for Barak and to show consideration.
Moreover, according to Margalit, Israel is prepared to start being mean to Arafat if he fails to understand Barak’s needs. The Israelis will start repeating Netanyahu’s complaints about the Palestinians not jailing suspects, not submitting lists of policemen and not-confiscating of illegal weapons, and about incitement in the schools - despite the fact almost all these accusations have been rejected as groundless by the US and other international observers.
The thinly veiled message from Barak to prominent journalists gets uglier and uglier. “In a closed forum, Barak spoke in rather surprising terms about Arafat’s position; the Prime Minister believes that most of the PA’s reservations about his proposal stem from the fact that his (Barak’s) willingess to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict once and for all interfered with the PA’s intentions. According to Barak’s version, Arafat benefited from Netanyahu’s intransigence, gaining world sympathy. He planned to declare a Palestinian state unilaterally…” (Uzi Benziman, Ha’aretz, July 30, 1999). Benziman’ who reports the statement is appalled at Barak’s line of thinking. “The tone of Barak’s words does not bode well. It seems to say that the PM is considering the possibility (and perhaps even expecting) that Israel and the Palestinians will not come to an understanding and he wants to build an alibi.”
This is not exactly the Israeli willingness to implement Wye that Barak wants to project to the international community. Every political novice understands that Barak wants to give as little territory as possible now, so as to include the “delayed 5%” in the final settlement proposals by Israel. No responsible Palestinian leader could even think of agreeing to the idea, especially as any willingness to allow backtracking on any signed agreements would render the Palestinians, as the weaker party, totally subject to every Israeli whim. Despite this, Israeli sources keep claiming that Barak’s warning is meeting with more and more understanding among the Palestinians, the Egyptians and the international community. Every other day we are informed that, despite official Palestinian statements to the contrary, the PA is thinking seriously about Barak’s warnings.
The Strategy behind the Tactics
Nahum Barnea and Shimon Shiffer are the two senior political commentators of the mass circulation Israeli daily, Yedioth Ahronoth. Naturally enough, they were in DC with Barak. In Washington, they learned of Barak’s plans regarding Wye.“Barak is not eager to implement the third, last stage of the Wye Accord, since, according to the IDF, the retreat will make it difficult to defend the roadway approaches of 15 settlements in the heart of the Shomron. In his opinion, Arafat, also, is not interested in exposing the settlements to terrorist activity. This will only make things more difficult for Arafat later on. The same problem that bothered Netanyahu lurks behind this argument: how to keep the most territory in Israeli hands towards the showdown on the final status. There is no big difference between views of the two on the final settlement: they want to keep 30-50% of the West Bank, including Jerusalem, in Israeli hands. The difference [between the two] is in the conclusion: Netanyahu despaired of a settlement, Barak believes that one is possible.”(Yedioth Ahronot, July 23, 1999). This amazing revelation, coming as it does from quarters friendly to the PM, explains why Barak has, so far, embraced Netanyahu’s basic strategy, namely to reduce Palestinian expectations. Netanyahu saw this as one of the crowning successes of his administration. Barak is doing everything to be a worthy successor.
Akiva Eldar,(Ha’aretz’ July 28, 1999) suggests that Barak has as yet to free himself from the paranoia characteristic of Israeli military thinking. “His [Barak’s] main problem is that instead of preparing the people for peace, he is still concerned primarily with security. A prime minister who promises a change has not come the distance that others in his cabinet have towards Arafat’s observation…that true security will be based on establishing normal relations…and from a process of building joint interests.” Barak, according to Eldar, is failing in his duty to instill the necessary confidence in the body public in order to prepare it to support peace.
The headlines this morning announce a new crisis in the Israeli-Palestinian talks. You already have, at your disposal, the background for this abrupt – but not totally unexpected new deterioration in Israeli-Palestinian relations.
Tuesday, July 20, 1999
As I write, a wave of optimism regarding chances for peace in the Middle East is currently sweeping through the media as Barak winds up his current visit to the United States. Expectations on the diplomatic level are high as the Palestinians and the Syrians ready themselves for negotiations with Barak. The speech writers are having a field day trotting out high flown phrases about the peace of the brave. Now, this may end up excellently, with the signing of full scale, final status agreements between the relevant sides, thus ushering in a new era of peace in the Middle East and thus signifying the end of the Israel-Arab and the Israeli-Palestinian conflicts. Those of us who tend to be more cautious about these things need to maintain their ability to be hopeful. On the other hand, those of us who are falling under the spell of the current media hype must indeed make an effort to get behind the glamour and the glitter so as to preserve the ability to judge Barak’s performance on an objective basis.
There are, of course, many Barak admirers who support the “Israel can do no wrong” point of view and will consider Barak a success whatever happens. For them, Barak has been crowned a man of peace. If the Arab sides understand this, they will also understand that nobody will give them a better deal than Barak. If the Arabs are unimpressed by this argument and no agreements are reached, and if the peace process grinds to a dangerous halt, Barak’s luster will remain untarnished for this type of fan. . The pro-Israeli camp will be able once again to blame the Arabs for the continuation of the conflict.
Much of the following is my humble attempt to create some sort of Guide for the Perplexed, by analyzing the fundamental issues to be discussed in the coming negotiations. Barak is, of course, preferable to Netanyahu, but in what way and does the difference create a genuine basis for negotiations on a reasonably just settlement?
Most people, especially if they are not Palestinians, do not bother themselves with the details of the dispute as it presently stands between the Israelis and the Palestinians. At any rate, in order to create some sort of basis for future analysis the outstanding agreements and issues must be reiterated here. The talks broke down when Israel, quoting Palestinian infringements of previous agreements, suspended the implementation of the Wye agreement (which was to be the second of three withdrawals) and released tens of common criminals instead of Palestinian fighters.Though many believe that some degree of Palestinian infringement exists and should be addressed, no responsible international factor accepted the Israeli excuse that there was any basis for Israeli non-compliance. This was certainly the case after the Clinton visit and the abrogation – for the n’th time of the Palestinian covenant in a highly visible public ceremony in Gaza.
In order to move the peace process with the Palestinians forward, Israel must complete the Wye withdrawal (already signed) and negotiate the details of an additional withdrawal to military zones. Sharon had already indicated that this would be construed as meaning almost the entire West Bank, but it is hoped that we have entered a new phase and this kind of argumentation is a thing of the past.Sadly, Barak has already attempted to pick up some cheap winnings by suggesting that the Wye accords and the third withdrawal be moved into the Final Status Negotiations (FSN). It took the Palestinians – who thought that their first meeting with Barak was little more than a photo opportunity - about a week to figure out that Barak was already trying to push them into a corner. Right now, the current line is that Barak wants to change the Wye agreements, but will implement them if the Palestinians assist. The Palestinians are to understand that they may anger Barak by requesting that Wye be implemented as a precondition for further negotiations. The FSN will center on the serious outstanding issues which were purposely left to the end: borders, settlements, Jerusalem and refugees. It would seem that the public, as objective observers, should develop its own understanding of these issues and apply this understanding to what I referred to above as the need for a reasonably just settlement.The Possible Outcomes of the Present Process
Speaking realistically the possible outcomes of the present initiatives are not all that obscure. Success would be clear: a reasonably just settlement with the Palestinians and the Syrians. Failure would mean no deal and the continuation of the status quo, though, it should be appreciated that failures of this type generally introduce new rounds of tension and hostility and even new wars. Though most of the Barakian enthusiasts hope for peace, they do appreciate that a settlement may not be achieved. In case of this failure, on what basis can we appreciate the responsibility for this failure? Only by a dispassionate evaluation of the outstanding issues in the FSN and a clear understanding of the needs can the public hope to judge the sides.
Barak’s Red Lines
Fortunately or unfortunately, Barak has not left us in the dark as to his position regarding the FSN. Not only has he revealed his position on the questions, but he has seen fit to designate them as “red-line,” that is as non-negotiable positions. Barak insists that there will be change in Jerusalem, which will remain under exclusive Israel control. Israel refuses to return to the 1967 borders, Israel stands on the rights of most settlements and most settlers to stay where they are. Israel refuses to discuss the Palestinian refugee questions and offers the advice that they solve their problems in the present countries of domicile. Barak has also demanded that no foreign army be allowed to enter Palestinian held territory. This last, eminently reasonable demand does not appear to be problematic since the Palestinians have never even suggested demanding such a right.
Those who admire Barak and also want peace must relate to these issues.. It is true that Barak’s pronouncements on these issues might be characterized as “opening positions, implying that Israel is really willing to negotiate on these issues. But there are a number of problems with this version. First of all, these positions are remarkably similar to those of the Netanyahu government. More important, the internal political arena in Israel poses serious difficulties. If Barak promises the public that he will not make concessions on these issues, will this not make it more difficult – or even impossible for him to convince the public to vote for the agreement which has to be approved in a referendum? It is especially disconcerting to see that Barak considered it vital to alert Clinton to his “red lines,” so as to prevent any future misunderstandings with the United States. Those who feel that the Palestinians must accept these “redline positions,” might have been quite satisfied with Barak’s predecessor. The majority of honest observers will want to examine these problems at greater depth. The question that poses itself at this point is whether the Barak “red lines” do permit room for serious negotiations. There might be some room, but very little.
Territorial questions usually permit much room for negotiation, but this is not so in the present case. All the occupied territories, which are to serve as the basis for Palestinian self-determination amount to only a quarter of the territory of Western Palestine. I assume that everyone, in deference to realism, understands that Israel will demand some sort of military presence on the Palestinian borders (for example in the Jordan Valley) and that there are Jewish urban centers in the territories which cannot be moved for practical logistic, financial and political reasons. Thus, the real margins for negotiation are very narrow. Palestinian needs, on the other hand, require a minimum of continuity. Thus, 85-90% of the West Bank will have to go to the Palestinians. Moreover, the Palestinians will produce a demand for territorial compensation over the Green Line. If Barak wants a settlement, why not stress the fact that the settlement must be close to the previous borders – with possible alterations for security reasons - instead of provoking the Palestinian side to demand return to the 1967 borders, by making non-return to the 1967 borders a central bargaining issue. It would be much wiser – instead of turning the former borders into a matter of principle - to concentrate on the security apects of the problem so that Barak could promise the public that no serious security interests have been forfeited
Barak’s position regarding Jerusalem is a perfect example of surrender to the most demagogic elements in Israeli society. There are no real security considerations regarding the Jerusalem issue and it is eminently reasonable that the Palestinians, who will be a majority in the city in the not too distant future, have the right to sovereign presence in the city. This is a symbolic and emotional issue for the Palestinians and the Arab world. Arrangements for a Palestinian sovereignty have no genuine security implications. Barak is barricading himself behind a high wall of rhetoric. His position makes the right-wing demands, provocative as they are, to build all over Jerusalem as a way of blocking Palestinian sovereignty, quite coherent.
Barak’s hope to appease the settler community and their supporters by keeping most of the settlers and settlements in the small slices of territory which must, by all logic, become Palestinian is the height of folly and steers him towards political suicide. An immense majority of the electorate voted against the settlers and their expansionist dreams. The time has come to delegitimize the colonization project as a whole, even if Barak wants to protect certain exceptions to the rule that withdrawal is the basic solution.
The recent statement by Barak that the solution to the Palestinian refugee problem is in their present country of domicile is woefully out of place in any serious discourse about peace. Admittedly, this is one of the most complex and difficult of all the questions. It, therefore, deserves cautious and sensitive treatment and not rude and vulgar answers. Time and imagination are necessary. Any attempt to simply ignore some Israeli responsibility in this area is simply unwise and near sighted. This is especially so as there is a growing tendency in the international community towards a greater understanding of the rights of non-combatant, civilian refugees, who have lost their homes and livelihood and suffered years of hardship and deprivation.
Barak and Syria
Fortunately, the Syrian track is much simpler than the Palestinian track, though not without its own complexities. The procedural and the substantial aspects of the problem are quite clear. Procedurally, there is a Syrian demand that the negotiations resume at the point that they were broken off by the Netanyahu government. Barak has been evasive on this point, saying only, that it should not be difficult to find a way to resume the negotiations. At the same time, his Foreign Minister, David Levy, is quite adamant about the Syrian duty to start talking with Israel without any reservations whatsoever. If Israel demands to return to the Levy formula we might have to go backwards in years, instead of preparing the path for serious discussions. The plain fact is that Israel has no reason to believe that the Syrians will change their mind about their demand to receive the Golan Heights. There is every reason to believe that Rabin had made a conditional offer to retreat from all the Golan in order to examine Syrian contributions to peace, if and when Israel retreats. The general understanding in the Israeli public is that the negotiations were suspended because Netanyahu refused to continue them from the point they had reached. It is totally unclear why Barak should try and score points on a lengthy round of negotiations on how to resume negotiations with the Syrians.
By giving up valuable strategic advantages in the Golan, Israel has the full right to demand a series of arrangements that would prevent Syrian use of the territory for aggression. Furthermore, it is reasonable that Israel request a solution of outstanding issues such as the water issue and a “warm” peace based on full normalization of relations between the two states. Yes, there are real problems to negotiate, but they do not include the question of “where to begin,” nor do they question the essence of the possible deal: full retreat from the Golan for full peace.
Barak in Washington
There is nothing intrinsically wrong in Clinton’s wanting to be a warm host for the new Prime Minister. Even so, there were some aspects of the Washinton meetings that cause concern. Barak was not hesitant about pronouncing that he had reached substantive agreements with Clinton on issues that still have to be negotiated with Israel’s Arab partners. Many observers stressed that Israel was trying to impress the Arab side with the fact that the bilateral, special U.S.-Israel relationship would dictate the outlines of any settlement in the region. Such a posture actually clouded the air and created a new set of tensions. This kind of strategy is designed to create illusions on the Israeli side that Israel has the advantage of an international, safety net. Or in other words, Barak and Israel have the right to believe that they will enjoy international support whatever the Israeli position regarding the peace process.
Barak Back in Israel
If Barak is to take the necessary steps towards a genuine settlement, and if there are no illusions regarding Arab capitulation, he has a tremendous job in preparing Israeli public opinion for the moment of truth. This will be impossible if Barak hangs on to his “red-lines” on either track. The contours of any possible settlement with the Palestinians and the Syrians are not obscure. They demand Israeli concessions. Given Israel’s vast military, economic and technological superioirity, peace is possible without any serious threat to Israeli security. Israel, in the very nature of this kind of deal does have the right to demand every step to prevent the use of territorial concessions today as the basis for any dream of aggressive intent tomorrow. The material and political basis for such an agreement exists in what many consider a “window of opportunity.”
There is still the likely danger that Barak will evade the real need for courage – courage to tell the people of Israel the costs of peace. This will be much easier if Barak is willing to talk about the certainly vastly greater costs involved in the continuation of the conflict. So far there are many indications that Barak wants to wear the mantle of Yitshak Rabin. However, there are also indications that he thinks that he can do this without a real battle to isolate the foes of peace and without a real battle to uproot vigilantly instilled illusions without a major shift in traditional policies. Many of my friends will tell me to give Barak some time, to permit him to plan the time and the place of the necessary maneuvers. I am willing to do so, if the purpose is not to re-mystify the basic fundamentals of the problem. It must remain clear to all that the major responsibility for progress, or the lack thereof, rests squarely on Israel and on Mr. Barak’s very own shoulders.