Monday, April 3, 2000

Sweet Illusions - Rude Awakening

Since the Madrid Conference in 1991, diplomatic activity and policy shifts by the governments of the central players in the Middle Eastern fired the hopes for peace in the Israeli public. The Oslo Accords, and subsequent Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and agreements, the peace treaty between Israel and Jordan, the fall of the Netanyahu government and the renewal of negotiations between Israel and Syria could reasonably be seen as evidence of forward motion. It was easy to see the delays, the retreats and continuing Israel settlement activity as functions of a tough negotiation posture. Many in the peace movement were ready to forgive Barak for unsavory declarations and ugly maneuvering. It was suggested that this sort of stuff helped Barak build up credibility with the hawkish elements in the public. The idea was that Barak could cash in on this credibility when settlements were finally hammered out. He would explain how hard he had pressured the Palestinians and the Syrians and how much he had achieved for Israel when he finally presented peace accords which had to be sold to all sections of the Israeli public.

There were other reasons to be patient. MERETZ and the Labor doves held high positions in the new government. The efforts to keep SHAS in the coalition were justified by their pivotal potential role in approving peace agreements. Barak set time tables for forward movement. The United States, and especially Bill Clinton, appeared very much to wind up the Israeli-Arab conflict before the approaching end of the Clinton presidency.

For the record, it must be stated that there were scattered voices that warned against any illusions regarding Barak and his intentions. But by and large, most people, encouraged by the media and their subjective hopes, felt that Barak was going to follow through on his promises to bring Israel into a new era of peace.

The Clinton-Asad Summit Fiasco

Towards the Clinton-Assad summit, Israeli intelligence sources had been vigorously selling the information that Asad would not scuttle a deal over short tracts of land near the north-eastern shores of the Lake of Galillee. Everyone agrees that this disputed territory has no specific strategic importance. It appears that these intelligence reports were marketed to the United States which was prepared to offer Asad all sorts of goodies for his readiness to cede the territory to Israel. The only difficulty is that Syria has stated again and again, before the talks and during them that its demand for an Israeli withdrawal to the pre-June 1967 borders was not negotiable. It said this to Israel, to the U.S. and to anyone else who was willing to listen.

The United States allowed itself to play a rather shabby role. It invited Assad to a meeting on the assumption that Israel had given it “something to work with.” The idea was that Clinton with additional contributions of what are called “sweeteners,” could close the deal. Neither Clinton or Barak dare to claim that Assad had ever given them any indication that he was willing to bargain on the withdrawal issue. Thus, the United States, seemingly in a big hurry, allowed itself to be used by Israel, a highly inappropriate action by a power which like to present itself as a honest broker and not a bone cruncher. There is deeper reason that the United States allowed itself to be exploited. By pressuring Asad, Clinton wanted to make it clear that Syria was not being invited into the regional alliance with a status equal in any sense to the key pivotal role of Israel.

Syria Must Be Taught A Lesson