Is Arafat to Blame for Sharon's Victory? or Was Defeat "Barak's and Barak's Alone"?

By Marshall, Rachelle | Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, April 30, 2001 | Go to article overview

Is Arafat to Blame for Sharon's Victory? or Was Defeat "Barak's and Barak's Alone"?


Marshall, Rachelle, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs


Is Arafat to Blame for Sharon's Victory? Or Was Defeat "Barak's and Barak's Alone"?

Rachelle Marshall is a free-lance editor living in Stanford, CA. A member of the International Jewish Peace Union, she writes frequently on the Middle East.

The problem is, when you know the truth it is far too much to describe, far too cruel... --Alison Weir of San Francisco, reporting from Gaza by e-mail, Feb. 18, 2001.

As usually happens with events in the Middle East, the truth about the breakdown of peace talks, the continuing intifada, and the subsequent election of Ariel Sharon has been largely obscured by the tendency of American opinion makers to see the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through Israeli eyes. As Palestinian protests and Israeli retaliation intensified, and the Barak government collapsed, former President Bill Clinton, news analysts and media commentators all agreed that the Palestinians were largely responsible for whatever had gone wrong. Absent from their comments was any reminder that Israel is occupying illegally another people's land.

A New York Times editorial of Feb. 7, the day after the Israeli election, praised Prime Minister Ehud Barak for his "energetic pursuit of peace," and charged that "Yasser Arafat unwisely spurned Mr. Barak's proposals and encouraged a Palestinian uprising against Israel. That revolt doomed Mr. Barak's peace policy and assured Mr. Sharon's electoral victory." Times columnist Thomas Friedman insisted that Barak had offered the Palestinians virtually all they had demanded, including "94 percent of the West Bank, half of Jerusalem, and restitution for refugees."

The notion that Arafat's rejection of Barak's proposals meant the Palestinians would not be satisfied with even the most generous peace terms, and that the Palestinian uprising had caused Israeli voters to reject Barak for Sharon, was pure myth. The map presented by Israel last December and published by the Israeli magazine Challenge, the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz, and the Washington-based Foundation for Middle East Peace, reveals that what Barak offered the Palestinians was far short of what they could accept. The map (see p. 8) shows the settlement blocs that Barak insisted on annexing to Israel extending like thick fingers across the West Bank from Jerusalem to Jericho, and curving north and south in a broad pincer movement. A wide swath of land along the Jordan River would remain under Israeli military control for at least six years more, if Israel decided its security required it. What remained to the Palestinians would be three segments of land, each one surrounded by Israeli settlements and roads. Travelers between Palestinian cities such as Nablus and Ramallah would have to take long and circuitous detours, and Palestinians going to Jerusalem would still face Israeli roadblocks--a nightmare vividly described by Samar Jabr and Betsy Mayfield (see the March issue of the Washington Report).

In a formal document issued on Dec. 30 the Palestinian negotiating team expressed three major objections to the proposals made by Barak and President Clinton: Palestinians would be forced to give up the right of Palestinian refugees to return; Israel's annexation of the settlement blocs--"recognized as illegal by the international community"--would deprive the Palestinian state of territorial contiguity; and Palestinian Jerusalem would be divided into a number of unconnected islands separate from each other and from the rest of Palestine. The Palestinians also complained that more than 80,000 Palestinian villagers would end up in areas annexed to Israel.

As for Clinton's proposal that a parcel of land in Israel near Gaza be turned over to the Palestinians in compensation for parts of the West Bank that Israel would keep, the Palestinians pointed out that the land near Gaza was currently being used by Israel as a toxic waste dump. "Obviously, we cannot accept trading prime agricultural and development land for toxic waste dumps," their statement said. …

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