Reprinted from Haaretz of May 1, 2000

BARAK HAS TRAPPED HIMSELF

By Moshe Arens

"The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men gang aft a gley [often go awry]" wrote the Scottish poet Robert Burns. Our prime minister might find this poem worth reading. Ehud Barak had a plan that at first was hailed as brilliant by many, but has in the meantime turned to ashes. A year ago, during the election campaign, Barak announced that the IDF would be withdrawn from the security zone in southern Lebanon a year after he took office. According to his scheme, this action would bring Syrian President Hafez Assad to the peace table. With the threat of an IDF withdrawal hanging over his head and enticed by Barak's readiness to turn all of the Golan Heights over to Syria, Assad would quickly agree to a peace treaty with Israel. As part of the accord, Assad would make sure that the Lebanese-Israeli border would be peaceful after the IDF withdrawal. Having achieved peace with Syria and brought peace to the Galilee, Barak expected that the treaty would be approved in a national referendum by a "sweeping majority." Then, from a position of strength, internationally and at home, Barak would negotiate a treaty with the Palestinians, who were to wait patiently until their turn came.

But things did not go according to plan. Although Barak at one time said that he could reach agreement on the terms of a peace treaty with Syria in the course of a half-hour meeting with Assad, the Syrian president never granted him a half-hour meeting - he simply refused to meet him. Syria's foreign minister was sent to Shepherdstown with instructions not to shake Barak's hand.

By the time of the meeting between Bill Clinton and Assad in Geneva, the deadline Barak had set for the IDF withdrawal from Lebanon was drawing near. In a last-minute effort to salvage his plan our prime minister threw in another concession: Hammat Gader, Israeli territory that had never been Syrian, was offered in addition to the Golan Heights. But Assad stuck to his guns, and there is no deal. That is, unless Barak also decides to turn the northeastern shore of the Kinneret over to Assad.

Israel is now faced with an impending IDF withdrawal from the security zone, at most only two months away, with no assurance that Hezbollah and its associates will desist from attacking Israeli targets after the withdrawal. As a matter of fact, there is little reason to believe that, flushed with their "victory" over the IDF, they will decide to turn themselves into a peaceful political party. Encouragement from their Syrian and Iranian patrons to continue their attacks on Israel will probably not be lacking.

Barak has trapped himself. Our northern towns and villages are about to be moved into the line of fire. Barak's recent statements that, in any case, the security zone did not provide additional security for the civilian population in the north is certainly not believed by those residents. That a reinforced UNIFIL contingent will be able to provide those people with the protection that the IDF and the SLA provided them with until now is most unlikely.

Israel is about to abandon the SLA, which has been our ally for the past 20 years. The negative effect this will have on Israel's reputation in the region can already be gauged by the reaction of the self-proclaimed spokesmen for Israel's Arab citizens, who have "forbidden" selling or renting houses in Israeli Arab villages to those who they refer to as the "collaborators" and "traitors" of the SLA.

But worst of all for Israel is the lesson that our Arab neighbors, first and foremost the Palestinians, will draw from this withdrawal under fire from the security zone. Violence against Israel appears to pay off. Their goals can be attained by violent means.

Barak's negotiating position with the Syrians and the Palestinians has been seriously undermined. Under circumstances that he himself has engineered, his remaining option is to give in to Arab demands. Giving up the Jerusalem airport, the Jordan Valley, the Judean Desert, 70, 80, 90 percent of Judea and Samaria to the Palestinians, or the northeastern shore of the Kinneret to the Syrians?

Eitan Haber, the late Yitzhak Rabin's aide-de-camp and a supporter of Ehud Barak, advised Barak in a recent article in Yediot Aharanot that the people of Israel do not have the stamina they had in past years to withstand the trials and tribulations of challenges. He added that the impending IDF withdrawal from the security zone, if carried out without a parallel arrangement with Assad, would lead to a mass flight of Israelis living in the north. His advice to Barak is to give in to Assad's demands to avoid this catastrophe.

It may be that Barak's "One Nation" party has really become the Am Ayef party - the party of the tired Israelis.

(c) copyright 2000 Ha'aretz. All Rights Reserved



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