The New York Times
Israel Needs a True Partner for Peace
By EHUD BARAK
JUL 30, 2001
KOKHAV YAIR, Israel – Eight years after the Oslo accords, amid a wave of Palestinian terror and violence and without a peace agreement, Israel should ask itself, Do we have a partner? What is the future of the peace process?
In spite of the frustration emanating from the collapse of Oslo, we need clear answers — not half truths or wishful thinking.
The agonizing answer is that Yasir Arafat did not prove to be a partner for peace and quite probably will not be one in the future.
At Camp David, Mr. Arafat well understood that the moment of truth had come and that painful decisions needed to be made by both sides. He failed this challenge.
An Israeli government, my government, was ready to discuss an agreement that while securing Israel's vital interests, was far-reaching in its response to Palestinian needs. It included an independent, viable and contiguous Palestinian state beside Israel. This would have satisfied United Nations Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 as interpreted by the international community.
But Mr. Arafat proved not to possess the foresight and courage of President Anwar el-Sadat of Egypt or King Hussein of Jordan. Instead, he missed every opportunity presented to him to achieve a permanent peace for his people.
It is wrong to think that anyone at the Camp David talks tried to dictate to Mr. Arafat the details of an agreement. The ideas that were on the table contained painful compromises for both sides. But Mr. Arafat was not ready to accept the ideas presented by President Clinton as a framework for negotiations. There was little evidence that Mr. Arafat was negotiating in good faith.
This frustrated me, and, I believe, it frustrated President Clinton and his team. Furthermore, the assertion now made by some observers that Mr. Arafat was pushed unwillingly to make peace at Camp David is somewhat strange. He signed a series of agreements committing him to make peace in 1993. He even received a Nobel Peace Prize to encourage him to live up to his commitments.
By 2000, we were headed toward deadlock, and we faced an inevitable eruption of violence if we failed to reach an agreement. The current violence did not erupt as the result of the failure at Camp David, but in spite of it.
The negotiations in Sharm el Sheik and in Paris in October 2000 strengthened my feeling that Mr. Arafat was primarily interested in gaining international involvement in dealing with the crisis and doing so through the use of violence. This posture on the part of a negotiating partner is simply unacceptable to any government.
We made a final attempt at negotiations at Taba in January 2001. Those talks did not carry much significance because we were on the eve of elections in Israel and because the Palestinian negotiators did not offer any viable proposals. I had hoped that meaningful progress could be made. Instead, Taba was rendered null and void due to a relentless campaign of terrorism by the Palestinians.
During the last 10 months, based on intelligence information, I believe that Mr. Arafat has been guiding terrorism activities and has turned a blind eye to terror attacks by Hamas and Islamic Jihad. He still refuses to rearrest dozens of terrorists whom he released. He has never stopped the incitement against Israel in the Palestinian media, and he has never educated his people toward peace with Israel. All these are imperatives if Israel is to begin new talks with Mr. Arafat.
But I am pessimistic about that prospect. Mr. Arafat has violated almost every agreement he has signed with Israel in both letter and spirit. The Oslo accords assumed that the transfer of administrative responsibilities for the West Bank and Gaza to Mr. Arafat would encourage his transformation into a leader of a nation state. The utter failure of Mr. Arafat to live up to that assumption is the primary cause of our crisis today.
Mr. Arafat is an elusive player. It took me some time and cost a certain price to find this out. Given the violence of the past 10 months and Mr. Arafat's failure to stop the terrorism, the new governments in the United States and in Israel would be foolish to give him the benefit of the doubt or to allow him, a nondemocratic leader, to exploit the changes of government in Israel and the United States.
The peace process is a complicated one burdened with details and nuances. This has always been the case, but the details of the Camp David talks must not be distorted, and in any case, those details have not been fully divulged. Currently 98 percent of the Palestinian population is under the control of the Palestinian Authority as a result of land transfers under successive Israeli governments since 1993.
The future of the peace process is not bright now; the Israeli public no longer trusts Mr. Arafat's intentions. In the absence of an honest negotiating partner, Israel should unilaterally disengage from the Palestinians and establish a border within which a solid Jewish majority for generations would be secure.
At some point in the future a new Palestinian leadership will emerge, capable of making the decisions that would make peace with Israel possible. When this time comes, I am confident that the contours of the agreement will resemble the sound ideas discussed at Camp David.
Ehud Barak was prime minister of Israel from 1999 to 2001.
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