Thursday, October 30, 2003

Barak unilateral

The Geneva Accords have registered a unique success. The very idea of a full, detailed blueprint for peace and coexistence that settles all outstanding issues has captured the minds of a significant segment of the Israeli public, the same public which is increasingly aware that Sharon doesn’t have any real strategy for ending the conflict. Indeed, more and more Israelis are taking notice that Sharon’s policies are increasingly costly for Israelis, as well as the Palestinians.

It was that old consummate opportunist, Shimon Peres, who realized that the Accords were important. Answering Sharon in the Israeli Knesset, Peres explained that the Accords had proven that there was a potential Palestinian partner for negotiations, and that a reasonable solution was very much a possibility. This announcement by Peres that Israel has a potential partner with whom to discuss peace may not appear particularly startling for those uninitiated in current Israeli political discourse. The true importance of Peres’ intervention lies in the fact that it contradicts a well known article of faith in Israeli politics to the effect that Arafat’s leadership means that meaningful negotiations for peace are simply impossible.

The article of faith to the effect that Israel lacks any potential partner for negotiations was the personal contribution of former Prime Minister Ehud Barak. Barak, in explaining the breakdown of the Camp David negotiations in July 2000, informed the Israeli public that he had achieved a major success in that he had torn the mask off Arafat’s face. The post-Camp David mess for which Barak was mainly responsible helped to catapult Sharon and the settlers to power while it simultaneously bewildered and disoriented large sections of the dove constituency.Of course, there was no objective basis regarding Arafat’s obstructionism.He wasn’t an easy partner for the Isrealis, but that wasn’t exactly Arafat’s job description. As a matter of fact serious negotiations were still going on in the fall and winter of 2000-2001. It was Barak and not Arafat that rendered them useless by first making overtures to Sharon to join his government and then resigning (on the advice of his wife, Naavah) and forcing the new elections which brought Sharon to power.

One lasting result of Barak’s treachery was to convince many Israelis who wanted peace that this goal could not be reached through negotiations with the Palestinian Authority under Arafat. Many of those who refused to accept Sharon’s leadership, but accepted Barak’s verdict against Arafat worked out an alternative conception: Israel would somehow make peace through a unilateral retreat from Palestinian territory. If we could not negotiate a peace agreement with the Palestinians, we would separate ourselves from the Palestinians (We are here! They are there!) and impose arrangements on the Palestinians imposing separation and walling off one society from the other. The idea was and is still ridiculous (Israeli-Palestinian peace without Palestinian). Tens of different formulae for unilateral withdrawal were in the air, all kinds of fences were to go up according to Israel’s needs for security. Paradoxically, many Israelis who detested the occupation accepted this alternative as the only way out of the predicament. The details of the proposals never congealed into a serious plan or program.

For more than three years, Sharon has been using Barak’s anti-Arafat line to justify his annexationist and militaristic policies. The Geneva Accords have exposed the false premises and the weird thinking involved in plans for a unilateral withdrawal. The idea was still born from the beginning. But there are still many conscious or unconscious Barakists in and around the peace movement who are uncomfortable with the idea that they will have to negotiate a peace plan with Palestinians as an equal partner. They would like to keep the ‘unilateral withdrawal’ in play, especially as Barak opposes the Geneva Accords and the neo-cons in Washington are still influencing U.S. policy against ‘unreformed Palestinians.’

Given the tremendous impact of the Geneva Accords and the prestige of the leaders of the Israeli initiative, there will few direct and open attacks on the Geneva Accords in the peace movement. On the other hand, we will witness indirect attacks and reservations. First, there are the super-realists who will explain that the GA are not so special, or not so different from Oslo. They will defend ‘pluralism’ so that they can still support different approaches (including unilateral withdrawal) and not put all our eggs in one basket. They will pretend to be more radical by talking about ‘leaving the territories’ or one-sided retreat from them. In short, unable to contest the message of the GA, they will try to minimize their impact and importance. This tendency must be overcome in open debate and in a broad collective effort to analyze new dimensions in the struggle for peace. This is the reason why we need clear decisions and a clear mandate to mobilize our activists on behalf of the GA breakthrough.