Reprinted from Ha'aretz 23 January 2001
BARAK'S SORRY LEGACY
By Moshe Arens
Lt.Gen (Res) Ehud Barak seemed to enter the office of prime minister in July 1999 with a similar military mind-set - possessing "chess-board thinking." He announced that he had a plan to end the hundred- year old Jewish-Arab conflict in fifteen months. Within twelve months he was going to sign a peace treaty with Syria and, presumably in the remaining three months, he was going to sign a peace treaty with Yasser Arafat. Along the way he insisted on setting a number of milestones, issuing ultimatums left and right in an attempt to force all involved to adhere to the schedule he had set.
Since most Israelis were eager to see an end to the conflict and a stable peace established in the area, his plan at first met with considerable approval from the Israeli public. Even when he began to deviate from the national consensus, offering concessions that had until then been considered inconceivable, he was hailed by many for his daring, courage, and willingness to slaughter Israel's sacred cows. One of the sacred cows he offered up for slaughter was the Temple Mount, the site holiest to the Jewish people. It was only when it became clear that his plan had fallen apart and that his concessions had been rejected, that widespread disappointment set in, together with a creeping realization that peace could not be achieved by a rigid military plan. Within less than two years, the almost unlimited credit that Barak had established with the Israeli public after his landslide victory over Benjamin Netanyahu was used up in a spendthrift fashion by this general-turned-politician. Barak's "Schlieffen Plan" had failed.
Even worse than his performance during his tenure as Prime Minister is his exit from the stage of government. Dedicated to the plan he had set, he insists on continuing, even after announcing his resignation, on a course that is obviously leading nowhere, and despite the violence initiated by the Palestinians. He offers the Palestinians the Jordan Valley, much of Jerusalem, and is prepared to discuss in principle Arafat's demand for the Palestinian "right of return." The rejection of these concessions by Arafat as insufficient does not phase him, and he continues on. Presumably he will not stop until February 6, and perhaps not even then, continuing to do damage until such time as a new coalition is formed and, by law he must vacate the Prime Minister's Office. He is pursuing a scorched earth policy.
He may have had the best of intentions, but he surely knows that as he continues to negotiate with Arafat he is making life very difficult for the next government. Arafat's insistence that negotiations proceed under the new government at the point where they left off under Barak, can only serve to impede the peace process to which Barak is presumably so dedicated. Is he trying to make it impossible for the government that will succeed him to continue with the peace process?
In these last minute negotiations he has requested and received the assistance of the outgoing U.S. president, Bill Clinton. Clinton surely knows that for a prime minister who has already resigned to carry out negotiations bearing on the future and security of the state is inconsistent with the norms of democratic government. But he evidently could not refuse Barak's pleas and resist the temptation to chaperone a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. In the process, Barak ignores the incoming Republican administration in Washington, making it no easier for the next Israeli prime minister. Barak will be leaving behind him a sorry legacy. Like Madame de Pompadour he must be saying to himself "apres moi le deluge" [after me the flood].