Reprinted from The Jerusalem Post of January 8, 1999

A CHOICE, NOT AN ECHO

By Yossi Ben-Aharon

The original concept of autonomy was designed to provide the Palestinians with maximum political self­expression, short of statehood. Except for a small minority, all the political parties in Israel agreed that an independent Palestinian state was too much of a risk and a danger. Contrary to this undertaking, however, the Rabin­Peres government deliberately set in motion a process that would lead to the establishment of a Palestinian state west of the Jordan River. By the time the Peres government was removed from office, it had become abundantly clear that we had been saddled with a hostile entity, governed by a terror­prone leadership, that was serving as a safe haven for terrorists.

Binyamin Netanyahu was elected against this background. Most people did not expect him to renounce the Oslo Agreements outright and trigger a full­dress confrontation with the PLO. We did, however, expect him to undertake a thorough review of the Oslo process and steer it toward a healthier track. This would have entailed, first and foremost, applying a brake to the slide toward a PLO­terrorist state. In addition, he was expected to serve notice to Yasser Arafat, right from the outset, that he must choose between living up to every undertaking in the agreements and a total suspension of the Oslo process. Netanyahu would have thus unmasked the total bankruptcy of the previous government's policy of "promoting the peace process as if there is no terrorism and fighting terrorism as if there is no peace process."

We were all sick and tired of Hamas terror attacks, coupled with PLO prevarication, double­dealing, and deception. A firm, principled, and consistent Israeli posture would have elicited popular support here and understanding in the US. Instead, Netanyahu adopted a policy of across­the­board equivocation. He would initiate contacts with the Palestinian Authority, intimate that progress was being made in the Oslo process, then turn around and publicly castigate the PA for violating the agreements. Similarly, one day he would declare wholehearted support for the inhabitants of Judea, Samaria, and Gaza, and the next day it would transpire that the government refused to permit bringing in even one caravan to a settlement. He would trumpet eternal dedication to united Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and at the same time prevent any building in Har Homa or Ras al­Amud.

THE FINAL blow was the Wye Plantation agreement. Contrary to the Netanyahu's protestations, that agreement has not rectified any of the disastrous blunders in the Oslo Accords. If anything, it only compounded the grave situation which those accords had created. It enabled, by such measures as an airport at Dahaniye, the resumption of the trend toward Palestinian statehood. It did not check the tide of Hamas terror attacks which were countenanced, if not encouraged, by the Palestinian Authority.

The argument that if we reject Netanyahu, we will be saddled with Ehud Barak does not hold water. The Israeli Left has been steadily losing the last vestiges of ideology and credibility. Since the demise of socialism, the Labor Party has been groping for a substitute without much success. It adopted the motto of peace with the Palestinians with gusto and fanfare, but that crusade turned sour because the PLO's concept of peace turned out to be a sham. It then chose Barak as its leader, hoping that following in the footsteps of Yitzhak Rabin, also a former chief of General Staff, would guarantee success for the party.

But that move turned out to be another blunder. Barak is an inexperienced novice in the complex political arena. He is, to a large extent, a prisoner of the Rabin­Peres ephemeral achievements in peace. Amnon Lipkin­Shahak is another candidate who mistakenly believes that being a former general is a sure guarantee of success in politics. He is trying hard to sell a centrist image. But once he and his competitors begin disclosing each other's past, Shahak' s central role in creating and promoting the Oslo process will place him squarely in the Rabin­Peres­Barak camp.

We cannot afford a leadership that is tied, ideologically or politically, to the Oslo process. We have paid too high a price for governments that gambled with the country's security and future. We desperately need a new and courageous leadership that is not beholden to the disastrous policies of the past and is capable of adopting a course toward a secure and stable future for our state and people.

(c) 1999 The Jerusalem Post

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Yossi Ben-Aharon is a former director­general of the Prime Minister's Office.


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