Small World

Jewish World Review Dec. 14, 2000 / 17 Kislev, 5761

A method to Barak's madness

By Richard Z. Chesnoff -- DOES EHUD BARAK have an ace up his sleeve in resigning and calling for elections? Insiders in his One Israel Labor Party claim he does, and that it's a peace deal with Yasser Arafat — one the Palestinian leader can't refuse, at least not logically.

When the deal happens, Barak's insiders say, it will push the right-wing Likud bloc out of the running, even if its candidate is popular former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

As these mostly dovish labor insiders tell it, Barak is offering the Palestinians a phased peace treaty: first, an agreement on firm borders that would include the dismantling of some, but definitely not all, Israeli settlements on the West Bank. Then, an Israeli withdrawal from the large areas that fall under Palestinian control. Third, and most important, Israeli recognition of an independent Palestinian state coupled with Israeli and U.S. commitments to do everything economically possible to help the Palestinians succeed.

That, of course, leaves some of the prime thorns in this 100-year war sticking sharply in everyone's side, notably the final status of the Holy City of Jerusalem and the question of compensation and/or return of Palestinian refugees from the 1948 Israeli War of Independence. Any part of any one of those two subjects could turn peace into war on any given Middle Eastern day. And, in fact, it was Jerusalem, at least nominally, that caused the final fracturing of the Camp David negotiations that President Clinton hosted this year. Nonetheless, the sources say that because these outstanding issues could then be worked out on a state- to-state basis after a cooling-off period, they could be solved.

The best news: This proposal reportedly has the support of Jordan's young King Abdullah and Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak, both of whom have strong influence in the Gaza court of the Emperor Yasser. Both the Jordanian and Egyptian leaders, the sources say, are going to put the squeeze on the Palestinians and urge them to give this peace deal at least a chance.

The U.S. is sure to back it. Already there is serious talk of Clinton winding up his White House days with a flourish: a visit to the Middle East in the waning days of his presidency and a giant personal surge to the finish line with both Israelis and Palestinians. One of Barak's top ministers was en route to Washington within hours of the prime minister's weekend announcement, specifically to push the Barak plan at the White House and State Department.

Of course, the Palestinians have yet to be convinced of anything along these lines. And in their inimitable never-miss-an-opportunity-to-miss-an-opportunity fashion, they could whine about this offer as well. The difference is that Arafat & Co. know that if Barak has no deal, he will likely lose the election to the Israeli right wing — a far less compatible partner for the Palestinians than Barak.

It's even possible that Barak's replacement would be Netanyahu. Under current Israeli law, Bibi is barred from running for prime minister because he is no longer a member of the Israeli parliament. But if the U.S. Supreme Court can involve itself in Florida's voting law, then I suppose the Israeli Knesset can change its rules, too.

JWR contributor and veteran journalist Richard Z. Chesnoff is a senior correspondent at US News And World Report and a columnist at the NY Daily News. His latest book is Pack of Thieves: How Hitler & Europe Plundered the Jews and Committed the Greatest Theft in History.


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