THE TRAGEDY
OF SHARM EL-SHEIKH

by Boris Shusteff

There'd never be peace if the Syrians were to return to the Golan Heights, if the Egyptians were to take back the whole Sinai, if we were to re-establish our 1967 borders with Hussein. [Golda Meir. (7)]

Somebody once said of Golda Meir's government that there was only one real man in her cabinet - Golda herself. It is unfortunate for the Israeli citizens that, though he has successfully worn a woman's outfit when he was leading a commando operation, Ehud Barak is nevertheless unable to understand the Arab-Israeli conflict as well as Golda did.

It is ironic that Israel's latest dismemberment happened in Sharm El-Sheikh. Ironic, because in a 1972 interview with Oriana Fallaci Golda Meir said the following:

"We won't give up Sharm El-Sheikh and a strip of desert connecting us with Sharm El-Sheikh. Because we want our ships to be able to enter and leave Sharm El-Sheikh. Because we don't want to take the risk of waking up again some morning with the Sinai full of Egyptian troops. On these terms, and only on these terms are we ready to negotiate with the Egyptians.' (7)

By returning Sharm El-Sheikh to the Egyptians Israel showed the Arabs that she can be beaten at the diplomatic level, though she is undefeated on the battlefield. Sharm El-Sheikh allowed Arabs to believe that their interpretation of UN Resolution 242 is correct, since Israel has returned to Egypt ALL of the "territories occupied in the recent conflict [the Six Day War]."

If one examines the statements of the Syrian and Palestinian Arab leaders it is clear that this is exactly the argument that they are using to demand a return to the 1967 borders. They say that since Egypt has received every single inch of the Sinai they should also get every single inch of the territory they consider theirs.

On September 4, 1999 in the Egyptian town of Sharm El-Sheikh Israel signed another memorandum that continues a long-running string of her diplomatic disasters. Even a quick reading of the memorandum shows that Israel keeps relinquishing territories while getting nothing back. As MK Rabbi Chaim Druckman (NRP) said on September 5:

"The Palestinians are progressing steadily towards their goal of an independent state with its capital in Jerusalem, as Arafat himself announced last night, and we continue to retreat and give in. It seems that we've forgotten that we are talking about our own homeland, and yet despite this, we keep giving it away without getting anything in return."

Barak's declaration that the memorandum is tied to the Permanent Status Negotiations should be taken with a big grain of salt. Paragraph 1.a. of the memorandum simply says that, "Sides will resume the Permanent Status Negotiations .and will make a determined effort to achieve their mutual goal of reaching a Permanent Status Agreement based on the agreed agenda." (2)

The term "determined effort" is extremely vague. Is it really possible to measure the level of "determination" to reach the Permanent Status Agreement? Especially since Paragraph 1.b. explains "that the negotiations on the Permanent Status will lead to the implementation of Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338" (2), and it is well known that the Israeli and the Arab interpretations of these resolutions are irreconcilable. Therefore, it is doubtful that both parties will exercise the same level of determination moving toward a non-existent common goal.

Anybody who pays attention to Israel's way of handling the negotiations can foresee only one possible result for this futile exercise - Israel's complete capitulation to Arafat's demands. Saeb Erekat, the main Palestinian Arab negotiator, told Reuters news service in Jericho on September 5, "If we fail to reach an agreement, then we have the full right to declare a state after that.'' Knowing this fact it is impossible to believe that Israel has any leverage in the negotiations. The Palestinian Arabs have not compromised any of their demands so far and only a na´ve person can believe that they will change their stand now.

Barak boasts that the withdrawals will be implemented in three phases instead of two. Is this really a big achievement? The important thing is that Israel will withdraw from 11% of the territories. Even worse, according to a September 1 analysis by Aluf Ben in Haaretz, as a reward, Arafat "will receive 'quality' areas in the West Bank, which will reinforce the territorial continuity of the Palestinian state, if and when it is established. And [he will] also [receive] other gifts: more prisoners released, the onset of work on the Gaza seaport and the activation of the safe passage routes between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip."

Arafat was in a win-win situation from the very beginning of the "Barak stage" of negotiations, since Barak announced that in any case Israel is going to relinquish the territory "promised" by the original Wye agreement. Thus Arafat was losing absolutely nothing, and could even try to get something else - something he successfully achieved. Instead of 102 prisoners that Israel was supposed to free at the current stage of implementation he was able to negotiate the release of 350 terrorists. Only 50 persons less than he wanted but over three times as many as Israel was planning to let go.

Immediately after signing the memorandum in Sharm El-Sheikh Arafat used another trump card. The two car-bomb explosions in Tiberias and Haifa that followed on the next day demonstrated Arafat's skills in using terror as a diplomatic instrument. It is nothing new for Arafat to issue statements denouncing terrorism and at the same time to use different terrorist groups acting on his orders. "In the mid 1980's the PLO maintained, or could regularly call on the services of at least five clandestine units to carry out covert operations including terrorist acts." (3) The infamous "Black September" was one of those groups. Captured in Jordan in February 1972, Abu-Daud [a top Black September operative] told interrogators, "There is no such organization called "Black September." Fatah announces its own operations under this name so that Fatah will not appear as the direct executor of the operation. What is called Black September is only the intelligence apparatus Jihaz el-Razd." (3)

This time Arafat has found a brilliant way to accelerate Israel's retreat - he announced this latest operation under the name of the Israeli Arabs. By doing this he has put Israel into an embarrassing position. As the Israeli daily Haaretz explained, "If indeed the investigation discovers that this time the terrorists were locals, Israel will have to do what it so often preaches - improve its fight against terrorism." So now the ball is in Israel's court and it is Israel who must fight terrorism, since, according to Efraim Sneh, Israel's Deputy Defense Minister, "to the best of Israel's knowledge, the Palestinian Authority is fighting terror to the best of its ability." (4)

Israel's response to the double terror attack makes Arafat even more confident. Efraim Sneh's statement that "the enemies of peace were trying to sabotage the peace process, but that Israel could not 'dance to the tune of Hamas and Islamic Jihad.'" (5) just proves that Arafat has found a goldmine in Israel's Arabs. Now he needs to simply wait for Israel to retreat and when needed to switch the terror options "on" and "off."

The timetable set by the Wye-2 agreement is rather stringent so Israel has to hurry. As Arafat said in Italy on September 5, "The time factor is very important. If we do not achieve big and tangible progress during the short, coming period, enemies of peace will exploit the freezing and stumbling situation in the current peace negotiations in order to cause doubt in the feasibility and benefits of the prospective peace." (6)

While it is obvious what the word "tangible" means to Arafat it is hard to understand what Israel achieved when Barak signed the agreement in Sharm El-Sheikh. If one says that Arafat must now wait until September, 2000 to proclaim a Palestinian state, one must also understand that in order to do this, Arafat first needs to get the land from Israel and, second, to have soldiers to fight against Israel when she becomes doubtful of "the feasibility and benefits of the prospective peace." Those are exactly the resources with which Barak has provided him by signing the agreement. [09/07/99]

NOTES

1. Arutz 7 news, 9/05/99

2. Official Text of Sharm Memorandum, IMRA 9/07/99

3. Neil C. Livingstone, David Halevy. Inside the PLO.

4. IMRA interview of Efraim Sneh and IDF officers on PA fighting terror. 9/07/99.

5. The Jerusalem Post, 9/06/99.

6. Reuters news service, 9/05/99

7. Oriana Fallaci, Interview with History.

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Boris Shusteff is an engineer in upstate New York. He is also a research associate with the Freeman Center for Strategic Studies.



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