Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Q's Head Consumed with a Big Xmas Gift



From “Elusive Peace”:

The summit at Wye [in October 1998] was not just intended to facilitate implementation of previous agreements, however.  It was also – and this fact has never before been published – the climax of an Israeli-Palestinian plot to impose a deal on Prime Minister Netanyahu, and, should he fail to play ball, to out him.

Netanyahu was despised not only by Palestinians, who regarded him as an obstacle to peace, but also by the Israeli Left.  Hence, in the period just before Wye, senior politicians from the Israeli opposition, including Yossi Beilin and Chaim Ramon, put their heads together with leading Palestinians, such as Saeb Erekat, Abu Mazen (also known as Mahmoud Abbas), Hassan Asfour and Mohammed Dahlan… Erekat recalls these meetings as, ‘collusion between me and members of the Israeli opposition… a cabal of me and my Israeli sympathizers… We developed certain ideas about how to deal with Netanyahu and we contacted the Americans with it and gave them something.’…

In other words, a secret draft was put together behind the back of the Prime Minister by the Israeli opposition and the Palestinians, in co-ordination with the Americans.  This draft was then presented as an ‘American paper’ to Netanyahu and Arafat, becoming the basis for negotiations at Wye.  (pp. xxvi-xxvii)

Renegotiating Wye [in July 1999] had put an enormous strain on the already bumpy relationship between Barak and Arafat.  Although Barak insisted that ‘I’ve never humiliated Arafat’, he did actually often hurt the easy-to-be-offended Palestinian leader.  This was nothing particular to do with Arafat, but more with the sort of arrogant behaviour typical of Barak.  He was equally ready to humiliate and hector his own colleagues and friends.  The fact that he was poor at managing other people’s sensitivities in a part of the world where honour, dignity and respect form an important component of the diplomatic game was a major problem.  (p. 17)

[A former head of Military Intelligence Uri] Saguie recalls, ‘The Syrian said [during the September 24, 1999, peace talks], “We are looking for you Israelis to give up the entire Golan Heights down to the 4 June lines,” I said to them, “Could you show me the 4 June line on the map?  Can you explain to me what do you mean when you refer to the 4 June line?”’  This was a legitimate question. The 4 June 1967 line had never actually been drawn on any map.  It was not a line but a concept – Assad’s notion of the deployment on the ground as it existed prior to the 1967 war.  According to Saguie, the Syrians replied, ‘We mean the positions where you Israelis were deployed before the war.’  Saguie:

I brought with me a map.  A Syrian map!  They looked at it.  The [1923] international border was there.  But there was no 4 June line.  So they changed tactics.  They said ‘If you show us our [military] positions before the war then…’  So I did and I showed them that sixty per cent of their positions were in fact east of the 1923 line…  Then they told me, ‘But we controlled this area by fire… from a distance… even if we were not there physically.’  So I told them: “I control Damascus by my aeroplanes, so is it mine?”  (p. 24)    

Syria-First, in the view of those who opposed the strategy, meant that if Assad was offered 100 per cent of land taken from him, Arafat would also insist on 100 per cent, something the Israelis would find it impossible to offer.  “No Palestinian leader’, Aaron Miller [a State Department expert] explains, ‘would be able to demonstrate any flexibility after the Israelis were prepared to give Assad 100 per cent of the Golan.’ Also, those in the American Administration who objected to a Syria-First strategy felt that it could poison the already suspicious atmosphere between the Palestinians and the Israelis, as the Palestinians would feel left behind.  (p. 27)

Just a day before the talks were due to open in Washington [in December 1999],… Barak told Dennis Ross that because of his trouble at home he wished the coming summit at Blair House to focus only on ‘procedural’ matters and to avoid ‘substantial’ ones.  He also said he did not want to meet the Syrian Foreign Minister [Farouk al-Shara] face to face lest Shara demand that Barak reaffirm the Rabin ‘deposit’ and promise to withdraw fully from the Golan Heights down to the 4 June 1967 lines.  ‘Prime Minister,’ said a stunned Ross, ‘you are the one who insisted that we must move quickly… We have high-level discussions for the first time and you don’t want to discuss [matters of] substances or meet privately Shara.  (pp. 34-35)

… there was still no progress on substance [during the January, 2000, peace talks in Shepherdstown, West Virginia].  The feeling among the Syrians, and indeed Americans, was that Prime Minister Barak was the main obstacle.  He was not helpful, not allowing his negotiators any leeway and not compromising at all.  (p. 45)

In an interview for Elusive Peace, US National Security Advisor Sandy Berger recalls how ‘how Barak told us that he didn’t intend to make any movement [at the January 2000 talks]… that he couldn’t seem to appear to be moving too quickly.  That didn’t please [President Clinton] very much.’  Indeed, it was all becoming an embarrassing and depressing situation.  A summit that Barak himself had called for, and been the driving force behind, had now been scuttled by himself.  (p. 47)

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