Magazine article Tikkun

Barak's Distorted Path

Magazine article Tikkun

Barak's Distorted Path

Article excerpt

recently spoke with a group of Israeli peace activists. Initially they had rejoiced at the election of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, but now they feel more than a little disappointed at his new government. They cite:

1. Barak's failure to include any Israeli Arab in his cabinet though he received 95 percent of the Arab vote. See the comments from Azmi Bishara, the Israeli Arab candidate for prime minister, on page fifty-eight of this issue of TIKKUN.

2. Barak's initial refusal to implement the Wye Accords. Implementing Wye without forcing a struggle would have assured Palestinians that Israel intended to return to the Oslo Accords subverted by Netanyahu. Wye is a very tiny step towards peace (several Palestinian authors have argued in these pages that Arafat's agreement to accept so little after the negotiators at Oslo had promised Palestinians at least 50 percent of the West Bank shows how craven and defeated Arafat has become). Barak's reluctance to immediately implement what even Netanyahu had agreed upon sent a very negative message. In fact, according to the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz, Barak continues to oppose the implementation of the Oslo Accords (a position he took publicly at the time it was signed). Ha'aretz says he wants a one-step solution-but one that will leave all of the settlements in place (which effectively means a Palestinian state far smaller and less economically viable than the one promised by the negotiators of Oslo). After pressure, Barak is agreeing to implement Wye-but warning Palestinians that doing so will cost them much in future negotiations. A bad start.

3. The continued demolition of Palestinian homes for alleged "code violations." See Jeff Halper's article in TIKKUN (May/June 1998) to understand why these demolitions are considered a "quiet transfer" of Palestinians out of their land.

4. The refusal of the Barak government to change Israeli water policy during the extreme drought and heat wave of summer 1999. Israel hogs most of the water from the West Bank-providing adequate supplies for Israeli settlers while providing inadequate water for the basic sanitary needs of most West Bank Palestinians.

In response to these criticisms, others claim that Barak is doing the best he can under the circumstances. Here are some of their arguments, followed by responses to them from Israeli peace activists:

1. No Mandate. Barak really didn't get a mandate for peace, so he can't move precipitously toward what he originally intended, but must be more cautious. This argument is usually made in one of two ways. First, Barak defenders remind me that the prime minister did not build his campaign around peace issues, but instead argued that he was to be trusted as a tough military man (who presumably would not sell out Israeli interests in peace negotiations) and focused his campaign on social justice issues.

The peace activists respond that this defense of Barak represents the ultimate triumph of the cynical political science realists who advised Barak. During the election, these "realists" argued that it would be better to play down the peace issue, since everyone knew that Labor supported implementation of the Oslo accords and the key was to win over support from people who might vote on a different basis-the issue of social justice and fairness. Now these same realists are arguing that there is no mandate because Barak did what they urged him to do. Well, that may be quite a surprise to most Israelis who are unafraid to say that they believed that a vote for Barak was also a vote for implementing Oslo. In fact, say the peace activists, the key to the future is to remind Barak that most people believed that his victory would mean an implementation of Oslo, and that was the most significant factor in why most people who voted for him did (had he been the candidate of a non-peace party, e.g. the Center party, advocating the stands he now, post-election, is advocating, he would not have won). …

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