Reprinted from The Jerusalem Post of February 4, 2000
BARAK IS OUTMANEUVERED
By Ariel Sharon
While Prime Minister Ehud Barak's personal credibility is being put to the test, the credibility of Israel's overall deterrence on Lebanon and Syria, is eroding; intensified Hizbullah attacks in Lebanon are causing painful casualties for Israel and the southern Lebanese.
As I have warned in the past, the writing is on the wall. Today we continue to pay the price for Barak's insistence on linkage between negotiations with Syria and an Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon. The Syrian demand: withdrawal to the June 4, 1967 lines. By agreeing to conduct negotiations under the fire of Syrian-supported Hizbullah, the Barak government has turned Israel's soldiers and civilians into hostages of Syria as Damascus uses Hizbullah terror to gain more concessions from Barak. Of all the unilateral concessions already made, the tacit acceptance of withdrawal to the June 4 line is the most ominous: it's the fault line that runs from the northern border through the heart of Jerusalem.
The weakness in the negotiations with Syria is affecting the Palestinian track. Yasser Arafat is more hopeful than ever as the Barak team begins "marathon negotiations" with the Palestinians. When he signed the Sharm e-Sheikh agreement last year, he learned that Barak was ready to abandon the reciprocity written into the Wye Memorandum.
Consequently, Arafat learned that the Barak government does not insist on Palestinian compliance in the interim phase, and he moved up his demands in final status, including declaring a state over the entire area of Judea and Samaria with east Jerusalem as its capital. Furthermore, the Palestinians have revived their demands to implement, in stages, the UN partition resolution of 1947 (181) and the right of return (Resolution 104).
Now Arafat has new hopes on borders. He saw that Barak was ready to pay the price of leaving the Golan Heights in return for a White House meeting with Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk Shara. hen he saw that Israel did not rule out basing its final border with Syria on the line of June 4, 1967. Thirty years of Israeli diplomacy that sought to obtain defensible borders, on the basis of UN Security Council Resolution 242, were abandoned. Israel dropped its insistence on a complete end of Hizbullah attacks, and replaced it with a willingness to make concessions to the Syrians while the IDF and SLA were under fire in south Lebanon.
UNILATERAL concessions and weakness are contagious: Once Israeli policy with the Syrians is collapsing, then Arafat expects a similar collapse in Judea and Samaria, for if Israel no longer insists on defensible borders on the Golan, by what logic will it insist on secure borders elsewhere?
Rather than reducing the Palestinians' expectations during final status, Barak has pushed them to an all-time high, and he has set an impossible deadly deadline. It is therefore not surprising that Arafat is now increasing his demands on Jerusalem. He knows that the Clinton administration made a commitment to Israel in January 1997 that only Israel will decide and implement the further redeployments, but he expects that Clinton can be convinced to pressure Barak to accept the Palestinian demand for full control of Abu Dis and Azaria, at the edge of the city's municipal borders. The Palestinians never viewed Abu Dis as an alternative capital to Jerusalem; rather, it was one of the springboards to extend the PA's control to the Old City, which is the Palestinians' real goal.
Last week, Ma'ariv reported that the Foreign Ministry is asking its diplomats to stop using the word "normalization" in contacts with Arab states because they might be offended. If Israel unilaterally gives up on normalization, then what are we negotiating with Syria, another cease-fire?
The Syrians have made it clear, and the head of Israel's Mossad confirmed it: Syria views peace as another extended armistice agreement. Incitement and animosity in the Syrian press compare Israelis to the "new Nazis" and recycle the libel stories of Jews drinking Arab blood on Passover.
This is the response of the Syrians and the Palestinians to Israeli concessions: applying more pressure to get more concessions. Diplomacy is just the continuation of war by other means. So, in the final analysis, Barak's futile attempt to outsmart his negotiating partners leads to the opposite result: Barak is outmaneuvered.
We all want peace, and we can achieve it with our neighbors. But it requires a different approach: negotiating without deadlines and with patience from a position of strength. Stating clear "red lines" based on broad consensus: not leaving the Golan Heights, rejecting any attempt to divide Jerusalem; and maintaining vital security zones in Judea and Samaria in any permanent agreement.
The Arab side has no intention of making concessions when it knows Israel's negotiating position is so easy to erode. We can still substitute our vanishing "pink lines" (as a senior American official called them) with real red lines. But that means stopping the crawl to the June 4 fault line.
Ariel Sharon is leader of the Likud and the general who saved Israel during the 1973 Yom Kippur War.