The Jerusalem Post: Editorial

Voices of Dissent

(December 27) - Judging from Prime Minister Ehud Barak's performance - the word is chosen advisedly, given his ham-fisted table-slamming and exaggerated shouting - on Nissim Mishal's Channel 2 interview program on Monday evening, it seems clear the prime minister has taken a decision to accept the US bridging proposals for moving ahead with negotiations with the Palestinians.

In so doing, Barak has broken a number of pledges, the first of which was his determination not to negotiate with the Palestinians under the sound of gunfire. Even if there has been a statistical reduction in the number of terror incidents over, say, the past two weeks, it is impossible to claim that the situation has returned to the pre-Rosh Hashana levels of security cooperation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

Also going by the wayside are Barak's commitments not to improve on the offers made at the Camp David summit in July and that Israel would not concede sovereignty over the Temple Mount. Although the details of the US plan have not been officially released, it seems clear that Barak's Camp David offer of relinquishing to the Palestinians around 90 percent of the West Bank and Gaza Strip has been bumped up to 95 percent, with another 5 percent of land from the Halutza area in the Negev, adjoining the Gaza Strip, also being transferred to the PA.

As for the Temple Mount, it appears as if Israel is now prepared to accept Palestinian sovereignty over Judaism's most holy site, relying on some form of understandings to prohibit the Palestinians from digging underneath the mount, the area believed to hold the remains of the First and Second Temples. And under the contours of the American-proposed agreement, Israel's capital, Jerusalem, would be divided, with the Palestinians receiving sovereignty over the Arab neighborhoods.

Given the historical enormity of this decision, the muted sound of protest of opponents to such an agreement is simply stunning. Less than five years ago, Shimon Peres lost an election due in no small part to the slogan "Peres will divide Jerusalem." Or, as Brig.-Gen. Effi Eitam (Fine) put it earlier this week, it would have been inconceivable for Israel to hand over a state to "a wretched murderer" like Yasser Arafat. Speaking at a Bar-Ilan University conference, Eitam said: "Five years ago, he [Arafat] did not have a place to rest his head, he was not here at all, and it never crossed our minds to hand him a state."

The brigadier-general, who was officially on active service when he made the remarks, had been roundly criticized by those on the Left, with some Knesset members calling for his dismissal, something his resignation has prevented. These Knesset members argued that, as a serving IDF officer, Eitam had no business promoting his political views in public.

There would be something to this argument if it were applied even-handedly across the political spectrum, but it seems only criticisms of a left-wing government are grounds for dismissal. When senior IDF officers continually and publicly insist there is no military solution to the present violence, only a political one, no one demands their dismissal even if such a statement is and of itself a political statement. There is no doubt that the IDF could impose quiet on the territories; the decision not to employ the full force of the IDF stems from non-military considerations.

And in calling Arafat a "wretched murderer," Eitam was only paraphrasing, albeit in a blunter and less diplomatic manner, his superior officers in the IDF and Barak himself. Ever since the "Aksa intifada" broke out, the official Israeli position has been that the PA is responsible for the violence and that Arafat, as its head, has it within his power to call a halt to the killing.

These next few days and weeks will be fateful for the country. It is vital that all sectors of the population and all viewpoints are heard, and are allowed to be heard, before the nation goes to the polls to give its stamp, or not, of approval to the agreement Barak seems determined to sign. The concessions Barak is prepared to offer are so major that there has to be a full public airing of the issues involved. This is not the time for gagging the voices of dissent.

(c) The Jerusalem Post

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