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Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, August/September 2000, Page 13

The Ostrovsky Files

The Israeli-Palestinian Summit: A Reality Check

By Victor Ostrovsky

A wise man once said that “in the Middle East, geography and demography do not change.The only thing that changes is the size of the graveyards.”

Since its inception, the state of Israel has been declaring its desire for peace. There has not been a single prime minister who did not vow he would go to the end of the earth to meet with his enemies in order to negotiate a settlement.

For one reason or another, however, each has always found a way out. Prime Minister Levi Eshkol may have expressed it best when he said that when it comes to peace he is willing to make promises, but he cannot promise to keep them.

It’s not that the leaders in Jerusalem do not want peace. It’s just that they can’t quite pull it off. There are so many conflicting agendas on so many levels in the Knesset, and as many alliances which fulfill a domestic need but sell out when it comes to Israel’s position in the peace process.

Prime Minister Ehud Barak survived the opposition attempt to topple his government on the eve of the Camp David summit. He may even have the courage to proceed with the negotiations, regardless of the internal turmoil he left behind in Israel. Still, there is scant hope for the implementation of any agreement he and Palestinian President Yasser Arafat might reach.

Upon their return, both leaders must present any agreement to their respective parliaments. The details of the accord then will be trashed in the media and dragged through a gauntlet of talking heads and know-it-alls. After endless mass demonstrations for and against, and assuming no lunatic or extremist attempt to carry out a terrorist attack, the tattered and much “updated” agreement will be subject to a national referendum on both sides, as the Palestinians have declared that they, too, will put the agreement before the voters.

And in the remote chance that it is accepted, it will more likely than not fail to resolve the major issues of a Palestinian state and the status of Jerusalem.

Some might call me a pessimist. I believe I’m a hopeful realist. I hope that Barak and Arafat will reach an agreement, and I hope that it will pass in their respective parliaments and that it will win acceptance in the referenda. I also hope that the U.S. will not be too broke or too disgusted with the process, and that the new president will be willing to continue on where all of his predecessors have failed. Yes, I do hope all that will happen. Do I believe it will? No, I don’t.

If, on the other hand, Barak would break away from the traditional role of a right-wing or left-wing leader and put on the hat of a statesman, we just might have a chance to see peace in that region in our lifetime.

The problem is not that the sides are so far apart in their positions. In fact, they are closer than most would be willing to admit. Every Israeli politician knows that a Palestinian state is inevitable. The question is whether, after its population has suffered oppression at the hands of the Israelis for the last 33 years, it will be a friendly neighbor or a hostile one.

It was Barak himself, remember, who said that if he were a Palestinian he would probably be a terrorist.

What is standing in the way of a full and comprehensive peace is posturing, which, even though practiced over the years by many Arab as well as Israeli leaders, currently appears to be the specialty of the Israeli side.

Just before leaving for the Washington summit Barak said “It is my main goal in these upcoming negotiations to guarantee the safety of the citizens of the state of Israel while keeping within the red-lines this government has marked for itself. They are: separation between the Palestinians and Israelis, refusal to return to the 1967 borders, a unified Jerusalem under Israeli jurisdiction, and refusal to accept responsibility in the matter of the [Palestinian] refugees.”

Barak added that achieving peace will allow Israel to transfer the energy and financing it has invested in dominating another nation into investments in education and settlements for Israelis in the Galilee.

Any observer with a basic understanding of fairness and politics can see that Barak’s posture, although it might sit well with Israel’s opposition parties, will not fly in the real world. It is time that Barak and his advisers realize that what the Palestinians want, and ultimately will get, is not a limited municipal autonomy but a free and democratic state.

The Israeli left, which for the moment has a majority (Barak was elected by a straight majority, not a coalition), should be as determined and unwavering as is the opposition. In the same way Likud leader Ariel Sharon will not compromise his warmongering beliefs, or “Trojan” Foreign Minister David Levy has no qualms about defying Barak, who had saved Levy from the political wilderness—so should the peace seekers in Israel refuse to compromise. They should face up to the reality that the Palestinians should be treated with as much respect as are the Syrians who, in turn, should be taken up on their offer for peace in return for the Golan Heights.

Two previous wars could have been prevented if the leadership on both sides had possessed the vision and courage to take bold steps for peace. Let them at least have the insight to prevent the next one.

Victor Ostrovsky, a former Mossad case officer, is the author of By Way of Deception: The Making and Unmaking of a Mossad Officer and The Other Side of Deception , both available on audiotape from the AET Book Club.