By Dr. Aaron Lerner

December 31, 1998

I have few questions this evening: one each for Ehud Barak, Limor Livnat and of course, prime minister Netanyahu Let's start with Barak:

This is Barak's line when he is asked about Palestinian compliance: The problem of Iran supersedes the problems with the Palestinians. Iran's nonconventional weapons are what threaten our existence ­ not a thousand rifles which are or aren't collected."

By the way. This isn't a chance remark. Not only did Barak say it several times when he spoke this week after the Likud Central Committee meeting. Several other Labor MKs repeated the same phrases ­ almost word for word ­ in the course of the last few days. I think it would be safe to assume that this line of thought received the approval of Barak's American coaches.

But what does Barak's line about the Palestinian rifles mean? I called Aliza Goren, Ehud Barak's spokeswoman, to try and get an explanation. When he keeps on saying that rifles don't matter, I asked, does he also mean the anti­tank missiles and other equipment which the Palestinians have don't matter? No answer.

In fact, she ­ and for that matter ­ her boss Barak ­ are careful not to even accept as a fact that the Palestinians even have any illegal weapons. They both keep saying "if they have them". And this is a puzzle to me. Barak is a member of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. He has been briefed time and again by Israeli intelligence that the PA is armed with the missiles and other illegal equipment and continues it program to import even more. These briefings aren't Likud propaganda. They are fact. So why the waffling?

So I asked Goren the obvious question: If Netanyahu says that there won't be a withdrawal until the Palestinians take care of the matter of their anti­tank weapons and other arms does Barak mean to say that the withdrawal should take place regardless? Goren's answer? Just like her boss: "He did not relate to that."

I asked several more times but no luck. What's the message to the Palestinians? That Palestinian compliance really doesn't matter. Smuggle in whatever you want and it doesn't matter. After all, what really matters is Iran so who cares what Arafat has.

Let's step back for a minute and remember that everyone ­ and I mean absolutely every Israeli party from Meretz to Moledet ­ talks about at least not having a serious foreign army this side of the Jordan. Now if this position is to be more than just a slogan then there has to be a serious commitment to enforcing this limitation.

If Barak today sees fit to ignore the situation ­ when Israel has the most leverage it will ever have to get compliance ­ what can we expect from him later on?

That's not to say that I am ecstatic that Netanyahu saw fit to raise the weapons issue after a long period of silence on it. If I were Netanyahu I would make the weapons issue the key Palestinian violation to focus on. Many analysts are convinced that Arafat will bend over backwards in the coming months to insure that he cannot be blamed for the breakdown in Wye. If Netanyahu focuses on the weapons ­ on specific weapons, something which the American public can readily understand, he could put Arafat in the position that he has no choice but to choose between handing them over and forfeiting his new position with the Clinton team.

Let's consider for a moment the logic of Barak's Iran argument: So the nukes of Iran are more dangerous than whatever Arafat has. Does Barak mean to say that Israel can't handle both issues at the same time? Let me put it in the most basic of terms: If Israel pulled out of the Golan and the West Bank tonight would this seriously change the Iranian threat? Let's not forget that Iran doesn't just want us out of Hebron ­ they want us out of Tel Aviv. Would such a withdrawal reduce Iran's interest in acquiring nonconventional weapons? Let's not be so self centered. Iran wants nukes to shake in the face of Iraq as much as it wants them to have them to threaten Israel ­ perhaps even more.

Would such a withdrawal cause the Americans to take a more active or aggressive stand against Iran? I doubt it. America's lack of will is completely home grown. As is its lack of effective power. We really aren't a significant factor in the equation. Yes. Iran is a serious issue. And it has to be addressed. But what we do or don't do with the Palestinians is, at most, only marginally related to it.

Well, we are almost out of time so I would like to just share with you a few quick thoughts:

A few months ago Minister of Communications Limor Livnat explained in an interview that she could not possibly join up with her pal Meridor in a new party as long as the Arab­Israeli conflict remained a key issue. When and if that was resolved, she explained, the social welfare issues would become the focus of national concern and then she could join up with Meridor and even Milo as they share common views on many social welfare issues. Well, as far as I can tell, the Arab­Israeli conflict is not going to be solved by election day. So why is she even considering joining forces with people who don't share her views on key issues in the Arab­Israeli conflict?

One last question: According to the Cabinet Communique issued after the weekly Cabinet meeting of 28.6.98, "In response to a question from Public Security Minister Avigdor Kahalani on reports in the press according to which an agreement has been reached between the Prime Minister and opposition leader Ehud Barak on withdrawal from the Golan Heights, the Prime Minister made absolutely clear that these reports were false...both he and Ya'acov Ne'eman, who was present at the meeting, possess records proving that these reports...are fabricated."

That's right. We don't have to just rely on his word. Netanyahu says he has written proof. If this is the case then why doesn't Netanyahu do the obvious ­ release the records to the public? That's what the public wants. This week IMRA commissioned a Gallup poll and found that 79.3% of the public (adult Israeli Jews) want the details of the draft agreement ­ if it exists ­ to be revealed to the public. One final note: attorney Ne'eman was careful this week when he said that Netanyahu never agreed to leave the Golan. Let's not forget that Rabin claimed he also wasn't leaving the Golan ­ just withdrawing from 99% of it!


Dr. Aaron Lerner is the Director IMRA (Independent Media Review & Analysis).

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