July 30, 2001
Israel Needs a True Partner for Peace
By EHUD BARAK
KOKHAV YAIR, Israel -- Eight years after the Oslo accords,
amid a wave of Palestinian terror and violence and without a
peace agreement, Israel should ask itself, Do we have a
partner? What is the future of the peace process?
In spite of the frustration emanating from the collapse of
Oslo, we need clear answers not half truths or wishful
The agonizing answer is that Yasir Arafat did not prove to be
a partner for peace and quite probably will not be one in the
At Camp David, Mr. Arafat well understood that the moment
of truth had come and that painful decisions needed to be
made by both sides. He failed this challenge.
An Israeli government, my government, was ready to
discuss an agreement that while securing Israel's vital
interests, was far-reaching in its response to Palestinian
needs. It included an independent, viable and contiguous
Palestinian state beside Israel. This would have satisfied
United Nations Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 as
interpreted by the international community.
But Mr. Arafat proved not to possess the foresight and
courage of President Anwar el-Sadat of Egypt or King
Hussein of Jordan. Instead, he missed every opportunity
presented to him to achieve a permanent peace for his
It is wrong to think that anyone at the Camp David talks
tried to dictate to Mr. Arafat the details of an agreement. The
ideas that were on the table contained painful compromises
for both sides. But Mr. Arafat was not ready to accept the
ideas presented by President Clinton as a framework for
negotiations. There was little evidence that Mr. Arafat was
negotiating in good faith.
This frustrated me, and, I believe, it frustrated President
Clinton and his team. Furthermore, the assertion now made
by some observers that Mr. Arafat was pushed unwillingly to
make peace at Camp David is somewhat strange. He signed
a series of agreements committing him to make peace in
1993. He even received a Nobel Peace Prize to encourage
him to live up to his commitments.
By 2000, we were headed toward deadlock, and we faced an
inevitable eruption of violence if we failed to reach an
agreement. The current violence did not erupt as the result
of the failure at Camp David, but in spite of it.
The negotiations in Sharm el Sheik and in Paris in October
2000 strengthened my feeling that Mr. Arafat was primarily
interested in gaining international involvement in dealing
with the crisis and doing so through the use of violence.
This posture on the part of a negotiating partner is simply
unacceptable to any government.
We made a final attempt at negotiations at Taba in January
2001. Those talks did not carry much significance because
we were on the eve of elections in Israel and because the
Palestinian negotiators did not offer any viable proposals. I
had hoped that meaningful progress could be made. Instead,
Taba was rendered null and void due to a relentless
campaign of terrorism by the Palestinians.
During the last 10 months, based on intelligence
information, I believe that Mr. Arafat has been guiding
terrorism activities and has turned a blind eye to terror
attacks by Hamas and Islamic Jihad. He still refuses to
rearrest dozens of terrorists whom he released. He has never
stopped the incitement against Israel in the Palestinian
media, and he has never educated his people toward peace
with Israel. All these are imperatives if Israel is to begin new
talks with Mr. Arafat.
But I am pessimistic about that prospect. Mr. Arafat has
violated almost every agreement he has signed with Israel in
both letter and spirit. The Oslo accords assumed that the
transfer of administrative responsibilities for the West Bank
and Gaza to Mr. Arafat would encourage his transformation
into a leader of a nation state. The utter failure of Mr. Arafat
to live up to that assumption is the primary cause of our
Mr. Arafat is an elusive player. It took me some time and
cost a certain price to find this out. Given the violence of the
past 10 months and Mr. Arafat's failure to stop the terrorism,
the new governments in the United States and in Israel
would be foolish to give him the benefit of the doubt or to
allow him, a nondemocratic leader, to exploit the changes of
government in Israel and the United States.
The peace process is a complicated one burdened with
details and nuances. This has always been the case, but the
details of the Camp David talks must not be distorted, and in
any case, those details have not been fully divulged.
Currently 98 percent of the Palestinian population is under
the control of the Palestinian Authority as a result of land
transfers under successive Israeli governments since 1993.
The future of the peace process is not bright now; the Israeli
public no longer trusts Mr. Arafat's intentions. In the
absence of an honest negotiating partner, Israel should
unilaterally disengage from the Palestinians and establish a
border within which a solid Jewish majority for generations
would be secure.
At some point in the future a new Palestinian leadership will
emerge, capable of making the decisions that would make
peace with Israel possible. When this time comes, I am
confident that the contours of the agreement will resemble
the sound ideas discussed at Camp David.
Ehud Barak was prime minister of Israel from 1999 to 2001.