BY URI AVNERY
TEL AVIV — Last week, in Europe, I happened to pass a frozen lake. I was told that a few days before it was possible to skate on it. But the temperature had risen and the ice cover had started to melt. It still covers the whole lake, but in many places it can be broken with a stick.
I was warned not to try to stand on it, because it might break, I would fall into the lake and disappear. But in a few days or weeks, I was promised, the ice would disappear and the beautiful lake would come to life again.
The situation in our country resembles this situation. The ice still covers the whole state, but it has started to melt.
The ice is the Big Lie told by Ehud Barak and his companions. This lie is starting to break. Soon nothing will be left of it.
When the bunch of bankrupt politicians returned from [the July 2000 summit at] Camp David, they fabricated the legend, which has since become a holy truth, as if given by God at Mount Sinai. Like the Ten Commandments of Moses, there are "Eight Facts of Barak": I have turned every stone on the way to peace; I have submitted offers unprecedented in their generosity; I went further than any prime minister before me; I have given the Palestinians everything they wanted; Yasser Arafat has rejected all the offers; Arafat does not want peace; The Palestinians want to throw us into the sea; We have no partner for peace.
If Binyamin Netanyahu had said this, it would not have had any impact. Everybody knows that Netanyahu is a crook. If Ariel Sharon had said it, he would not have been believed, because everybody knows that Sharon is a man of blood, unable to distinguish between truth and untruth. But when it came from the leaders of the Labour Party, those eminent spokespeople for peace, it caused the collapse of the established peace movement.
Since then, many testimonies about Camp David have been published, including some by pro-Israeli American eye-witnesses. All of them show that Barak's proposals fell far short of the essential minimum for peace: the end of the occupation, establishment of a Palestinian state side by side with Israel, giving up all the occupied territories (all in all 22% of Palestine under the British mandate), returning to the Green Line (with the possibility of mutually agreed swaps of territories), turning East Jerusalem into the capital of Palestine, return of the settlers and soldiers to Israel, ending the tragedy of the refugees without damage to Israel.
When the Big Lie exploded, an alternative lie was put out: Some months after the Camp David talks were renewed in Taba [in January 2001], Barak's men made offers unprecedented in their generosity, gave the Palestinians everything, but "Arafat refused to sign", which shows that he does not want peace, etc.
Now [Miguel] Moratinus, the European Union emissary for peace in the Middle East, has come along and buried this lie, too. The Spanish diplomat, who was in Taba but did not take part in the talks, has published a long and detailed report about what really happened there.
The clear conclusion is that at Taba the sides indeed came dramatically closer to each other. Gaps remained between their positions in almost all areas, but they were quantitative rather than qualitative gaps. Clearly, if the talks had gone on for another few days or weeks, a historic agreement would have been achieved.
So what happened? Is it true that "Arafat refused to sign"?
Not at all. Arafat did not refuse to sign. He wanted to continue the negotiations until there was an agreement to sign.
It was not Arafat who broke off the talks at this critical moment, when the light at the end of the tunnel was clearly visible to the negotiators, but Barak. He ordered his men to break off and return home. Why?
The Taba talks began after the outbreak of the second intifada. After Sharon's invasion of the Temple Mount with Barak's permission, and after seven Arab protesters were shot by Ben-Ami's police, bloody incidents occurred daily. The Taba talks were held "under fire" — a process that is quite normal in history. After all, negotiations are held in order to put an end to the fire.
On that day, two Israelis were murdered in a Palestinian town. The Palestinians said that this was revenge for the murder of a local leader. But it was enough for Barak to break off the talks.
What was the real reason? The answer must be found in the mind of Barak. After all, it happened to Barak time and again: whenever he got close to an agreement, he withdrew at the last moment.
It started at the very beginning of his term of office. As will be recalled, he wanted to come to an agreement with the Syrians first, in order to isolate the Palestinians. Complete agreement was almost reached, when suddenly everything broke down. [Syrian President Bashir] Assad wanted Syrian territory to extend to the shores of the Sea of Galilee, while Barak wanted the border to be a hundred metres away from the shore. Because of the hundred metres, Barak rejected the historic agreement that was at hand. (Comics say these days that Barak should have fixed the border at the shore line as it was then, as the sea has retreated many hundreds of metres since then.)
The same happened at Camp David. Agreement was possible. All the participants believed at the time that it was already close. Then something happened to Barak. As the Israeli participants testify (and as Arafat told me a few days ago), Barak simply freaked out. He cut himself off, did not shave and refused to meet even with his closest assistants.
Something similar happened at Taba. When the agreement was at hand, Barak ordered the talks to be broken off. The actual pretext does not matter.
When something like that occurs again and again, it raises questions. It may be called "politicus interruptus". A moment before the consummation, Barak draws back. I am not a psychiatrist and am not qualified to deal with mental problems. But I believe that every time, when Barak saw the actual price of peace in front of him, he shrank back at the last moment.
There was a dissonance between the price of peace (withdrawal from the occupied territories, evacuation of settlements, conceding East Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, return of a symbolic number of refugees) and the ideas he was brought up on. He could not shoulder the responsibility and broke down. At the same time, he expanded the settlements at a frantic pace.
Adding sin to crime (as the Hebrew expression goes), he covered his personal collapse with the Big Lie, which caused a national collapse.
Now the lie is starting to break up. The open discussion of war crimes, the declaration of hundreds of soldiers that they refuse to serve in the Palestinian territories, the call of the reserve generals for an end to the occupation, the new voices in the media, the call of courageous artists, the big demonstration of 27 militant peace organisations (including Gush Shalom), the following big Peace Now demonstration — all these show that the ice is starting to melt.
This is only the beginning. Now is the time for all those who were waiting to join the effort. As Churchill said after the victory in Egypt: "This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning."
From Green Left Weekly, March 13, 2002.
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