Today, former Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Barak will speak at UC Berkeley’s Zellerbach Hall, and many American Jews, led by A Jewish Voice for Peace, will stand to protest his message. No, these will not be supporters of Ariel Sharon. These Jewish Americans see Barak as having played a central role in bringing Israelis and Palestinians into their worst era of violence since 1948.
Ever since the failure of the talks at Camp David in 2000, Barak has been on a campaign to convince the world that the failure of those talks was entirely the fault of Yasir Arafat. Barak’s claim that he presented a “generous offer” to the Palestinians that was refused plays into the worst fears of American and Israeli Jews: that the Palestinians are not interested in peace, but only in destroying the Jewish people.
Many American and Israeli officials who were present during the Camp David summit have worked long and hard to debunk this version of events yet Barak’ s version still holds sway. But many are coming to see Barak as a politician who plays on the worst fears of his constituency simply to present his own failures in a more favorable light. Barak’s offer, in fact, proposed a Palestinian state that would have been fractured by Israeli settlement blocs and bypass roads that would have made life for Palestinians extremely difficult. It gave Palestinians no common border with any Arab state, very limited sovereignty in Jerusalem and equally limited control of the scant but crucial water resources of the West Bank. And, perhaps most important of all, this offer was presented to Arafat as a “take it or leave it” proposal, as both Barak and Clinton made it clear that Israel would go no further than this offer. In addition, because Barak built even more settlements than his right-wing predecessor, Benjamin Netanyahu, it was even more difficult for Arafat to accept his “generous offer.”
Barak said that he intended to negotiate a peace settlement with the Palestinians if he won the Israeli elections in February of 2001, and, with that hope, he sent his negotiators to Taba in January 2001, five months after the start of the current Intifada. From all accounts, those negotiations were fruitful, although with the election looming and Ariel Sharon’s public pronouncements that he would not adhere to any agreements reached there, Barak pulled the plug on them. But Ehud Barak did not change his tune about the Palestinians when the Intifada started in September 2000 but when he lost the elections in February 2001. In a stunning about-face, he blamed his electoral defeat on the Palestinians. And this is what he has been doing ever since. Instead of working to ensure that Israeli children will grow up able to live a normal and fulfilling life in a peaceful Israel, Ehud Barak has been touring the world working to save his reputation. For this reason, American Jews today will stand and protest Barak’s version of history which serves only himself and continues to pour fuel on the fire of the burning conflict in the Middle East.
Ehud Barak could have been remembered as the Prime Minister who finally engineered the end of the eighteen-year long Israeli occupation of Southern Lebanon. This was a great accomplishment, one many Israelis had been demanding for quite a while. And, while his offer to the Palestinians at Camp David was less “generous” than he has claimed, it was also much more than had ever been offered by an Israeli government before. The progress made at Taba shows that his offer could have been a promising beginning for negotiations that could have led to a settlement of the conflict. But Barak’ s tireless campaign to blame the Palestinians has made him the best spokesman for Ariel Sharon, who seeks nothing less than to obliterate the possibility for a genuine peace. Sadly, that will be Barak’s legacy.
Mitchell Plitnick and Liat Weingart are Co-Directors of A Jewish Voice for Peace. This originally appeared as an op-ed in the SF Chronicle