The End of the Oslo Peace Process - Commentary III
This past summer was the first anniversary of the failed effort at Israeli- Palestinian peace hosted by Bill Clinton at Camp David. A number of analyses have been prominently published to commemorate this unhappy fact.
One, by outgoing NEW YORK TIMES Israel correspondent, Deborah Sontag, said less than met the eye upon initial reading. It trivialized events by dwelling upon Ehud Barak's personality flaws and some diplomatic slights visited upon Yasser Arafat (e.g., Chelsea Clinton chose to sit next to Barak at dinner, rather than Arafat). Sontag's piece was powerfully critiqued in a NEW REPUBLIC article by Robert Satloff.
A line of articles published in a variety of places by Clinton State Department aide, Robert Malley in its most impressive and detailed form in THE NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS (co-authored by Palestinian analyst Hussein Agha)-- present a more formidable view. He reveals the pressures upon, and shortcomings of, the positions of the three main actors in the negotiations drama: Arafat, Barak and Clinton.
Now comes a harsh left-wing critique of Barak by Tony Klug, a veteran British Mideast analyst, being published in the PALESTINE-ISRAEL JOURNAL. [ Viewpoints version: "Infernal Scapegoat" and Comments on that article ED]
Most people now agree that Barak handled the peace process "end game" awkwardly. He was hobbled from the beginning by an unreliable coalition which reflected the short-lived electoral "reform" in Israel which generated a 57% majority for him as PM in '99, while simultaneously electing a closely divided but largely hostile Knesset. Toward the end, he was a guy who even needed a "mediator" Avshalom (Abu) Vilan (a Meretz M.K. who had served under Barak as a commando)-- to deal with his closest political ally, the Meretz Knesset leader, Yossi Sarid.
Even so, Barak had acted boldly in his way to attempt a reasonable peace with Syria, coming very close at the time of the senior Assad's death. Then he finally cut Israel's losses in Lebanon with an unprecedented unilateral withdrawal.
He tried something similar with the Palestinians, with the unprecedented offer of sharing sovereignty in Jerusalem and some form of withdrawal from all of Gaza and many West Bank settlements (exactly to what dimension, being unclear and the nature of endless analysis and debate). He certainly did things or did not do things which the Palestinians can legitimately complain about.
We also should have many questions regarding Arafat and Palestinian behavior. For example, was Sharon's walk on the wild side on the Temple Mount the product of a very dumb decision by Barak which turned tragic, or simply an excuse for the Palestinian Authority to use some violence as a pressure tactic? I don't really know, but evidence for the latter comes from Arafat's decision to release approximately 70 jailed Hamas and Islamic Jihad activists. And what should we make of the following: that Arafat's many security forces are two to three times the number allowed under Oslo and that, in addition, there is a large Fatah party militia (the Tanzim) which has engaged in significant instances of violence-- not to mention the charges of terror attacks lodged against Arafat's praetorian guard, Force 17?
Furthermore, despite Barak's very real shortcomings, we also have the evidence of how far the parties came to a comprehensive agreement at Taba-- as related by Malley, Sontag and Yossi Beilin. But by this time, tragically, the Intifada had reduced Barak to a political joke. There was no way that Barak could sell such an agreement to the Israeli electorate after several months of this bloody mess, with all its attendant horrors.
The events of the past year appear to this observer as the third time that the Palestinians have refused to choose an independent state pursuant to a political compromise. The first was in 1937, when the British Peel Commission proposed an Arab state in about 65 to 70 percent of the British Mandate, alongside a Jewish state in about 15 to 20 percent, with a continuing Mandate over a narrow band of territory from Jerusalem to the sea (bisecting the proposed Jewish state). The second was in the 1947 United Nations partition plan which would have divided Palestine nearly 50-50, not counting an international jurisdiction over Jerusalem. Each of these three times, Jewish authorities appeared to accept the compromise albeit not without division and acrimony. On all three of these occasions, the Arab leadership of Palestine appear to have preferred violence to peace.
Raphael Seliger is co-editor of Israel Horizons, a publication of Meretz USA.
Copyright 2001, Raphael Seliger.
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