A few quick thoughts on the welcome retirement of Ehud Barak.
He, more than anyone else, destroyed the peace process. He was elected in 1999 on a Labor Party peace platform, arguing that the incumbent prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, had destroyed chances for peace. He promised to reach a deal with the Palestinians who welcomed his election along with an ecstatic Israeli peace camp.
But following the election he immediately set out to humiliate the Palestinians, ignoring Yasir Arafat’s pleas to start talking and instead pretended to focus on reaching a deal with Syria so he could end run the Palestinians. He ke them waiting for six months, a strategy designed to strengthen his hand against them.
He repeatedly ignored requirements in the Oslo agreement for territorial withdrawal. To this day he proudly says he never agreed to yield territory (unlike his predecessor).
In 2000, he decided to push for an all-or-nothing agreement. Arafat said no, that it was too soon, especially given the good will that Barak had frittered away. Clinton agreed with Arafat that first Barak needed to lived up to the agreements Israel had already signed. (Clinton has publicly regretted being duped by Barak)
But Barak insisted on a summit. Israelis, Palestinians and Americans commenced negotiations at Camp David in July where Barak refused even to talk to Arafat directly. He famously treated Arafat as some indigenous local chief while he was a head of state.
Barak put some ideas on the table, all in the spirit of take-it-or-leave-it. Barak and the Dennis Ross-led American “peace team” coordinated every step of negotiations which were essentially a gang-up. Arafat, who had said from the get-go that he could not reach a deal until Israel lived up to its previous agreements, refused to accept Barak’s offers which, in any case, never came close to meeting Arafat’s demand for a state in 22% of historic Palestine.
Following negotiations, Barak announced that he had “torn the mask” off the face of the Palestinians. Although negotiations continued, Barak was now in the business of demonizing them. By the time he made the Palestinians a decent offer, it was too late. Trust had been destroyed.
In the fall, he gave Ariel Sharon, leader of the opposition, permission to take a stroll with a few thousand followers on the Temple Mount or the Haran al Sharif. Arafat had begged him in a desperate visit to Barak’s home not to permit that, knowing the explosion that would follow. It did. And then Intifada II broke out following Barak’s decision to shoot dead 13 unarmed Israeli Arab demonstrators in the country itself.
The West Bank and Gaza exploded. Peace was dead and Barak was replaced by Ariel Sharon.
While Barak’s policies were no worse than Sharon or Netanyahu, he is the only one who was elected to achieve peace on the Labor ticket. In my view, he is then worse than either of them.
Now he leaves, bodies strewn everywhere.
Palestinians will celebrate Barak’s downfall but their contrempt for him will never match that of the Israeli people he betrayed. They voted for peace. He gave them war. They voted for hope. He destroyed hope.