Israel Forum Watch; 24-Hour Vilification, Apologetics and Hate from a Fanatically Pro-Israel Viewpoint

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Camp David: Propagating the Myth

Immediately after Camp David, Ehud Barak laid the blame for failure firmly at the feet of Yasser Arafat. It has since become an article of faith of the pro-Israel zealots that this is indeed the case. How did this become so widely accepted? The invaluable Daniel Dor looked at this question in his book ‘Intifada Hits the Headlines: How the Israeli Press Misreported the Outbreak of the Second Palestinian Uprising’ (published first in Hebrew under the mercifully shorter title of ‘Newspapers under the Influence’). It’s also an excellent book for a general critique of the inner workings of the so-called ‘liberal media’.

Apologies for the long excerpt, but it’s well worth the read.

After long years of floundering between interim agreements, with occasional territorial concessions, periodic crises, and sporadic terror attacks, one Israeli PM decided to examine once for all, scientifically, whether indeed it was possible to finalise the process with a real peace agreement. This PM – Ehud Barak – cut through procedures, put an end to pattern of interim agreements, and offered Arafat a permanent status agreement on unimaginable, unprecedented, “generous” terms. How did Arafat respond to that proposal? By igniting the flames of the Intifada………Why did he do that?.........The answer to the riddle is clear and simple: Arafat was not interested in peace………..This answer to the riddle is unpleasant, disappointing, frustrating – but this is the reality. One simply has to get used to it.

This perspective was most eloquently expressed in an extensive and very influential article published by Ari Shavit in Ha’aretz’s weekend magazine on October 27, 2000. The article itself, under the title “BARAKS COPERNICAN REVOLUTION”, begins with a lengthy historical review of the defeat of the geocentric perspective lying at the heart of ancient astronomy…… “The present historical moment”, writes Shavit, is a Copernican moment – and Ehud Barak is no other than an Israeli Copernicus, since he has proven that the “autocentric” perspective of Israeli culture was no more than “a figment of our imagination; a wish; a false dream; a cock-and-bull story”;
Two complementary assumptions were the basis for this autocentric perspective: the assumption that the Israeli occupation since 1967 lies at the heart of the conflict; and the assumption that……the solution is at hand, for it depends primarily on Israel and it’s willingness to put an end to this occupation. Thus the real historical importance of the events of October 2000 is the fact that they undermined this autocentric perspective along with its two assumptions. For the Palestinian national movements decision to land a violent attack on Israel was made just after Israel offered that same movement to put an end to the occupation, recognize a Palestinian state, retreat from 95% of the territories, and even divide Jerusalem…….In the months preceding this outburst of violence, Barak actually subjected the old peace hypothesis to a critical experiment……This is the real meaning of Barak’s term in government so far. This is Barak’s real revolution……. Now the masquerade is over…….Now we all look this cruel reality- revealed by Barak and personified by Arafat –in the eye

Throughout October, and much later as well, it was hard to find an Israeli who would not readily accept Ari Shavit’s words. This was true not only of the political Right, who celebrated quite a victory during those days, but also of the moderate Left which at the time was going through intense conceptual stock-taking…….The simple fact, however, is that Ari Shavit’s perspective, the perspective formed by Ehud Barak’s propaganda, is completely unfounded –for two fundamental and complementary reasons. These reasons are well known throughout October; they were freely discussed by reporters and analysts, but the newspapers completely avoided any attempt to explicitly deal with them, thus helping to perpetuate Barak’s perspective in the Israel consciousness to an extent than now seems almost irrevocable.

The first point has to do with the very notion of the experiment: Ehud Barak, deeply familiar with scientific thought, was probably well aware that whoever conducts an experiment cannot participate in it – this is a completely basic scientific insight. Yet Barak obviously participated in his own experiment, and quite actively at that…….He totally ignored the need for confidence building measures; he put an end to Israel staged withdrawals from the territories, as envisaged in the Oslo process; he did not hand over any territory to the Palestinians throughout his term; he severed the deep relationships between Israeli and Palestinian peace-veterans; he authorised more building in the settlements than his right-wing predecessor Netanyahu; he humiliated Arafat and his staff from his first day in office; he never entered a process of negotiation with the Palestinians, but rather asked them to sign finalised dictates for agreements; he raised the sensitive issues of the division of Jerusalem and control of the Temple Mount without previous diplomatic groundwork; and mainly, he let it be felt all along that he thought of what he was doing was an experiment – with Arafat as his guinea pig.

Every one of these facts was reported in the newspapers during the month of October, but they always appeared in the weekend magazine sections and in section B of Ha’aretz – and they were never once mentioned in the newspapers headlines. Here are 3 examples out of many. In Yediot Ahronot’s political supplement on October 13, Sima Kadmon reports a special cabinet meeting,
The question hovered in the air, but no one dared ask it: how did we come to this pass? Everyone knew the answer. It had to do with the personality of the person in charge of negotiations, namely, the PM. With Barak it was all or nothing. Black or white – retreat from Lebanon within a year; reach a pace agreement with the Palestinians within 15 months; a comprehensive agreement- or no agreement at all; the end of the conflict, or nothing………Barak thought he knew better. He gambled.”

That same day Chemi Shalev published a similar article in Ma’ariv’s political supplement. Shalev reports the opposition to Barak within his cabinet and says that “more than a few cabinet members are critical of the tactics he adopted, the steps he initiated and the efforts he aborted. But these are days of national rallying, of consensual defensiveness, and when the guns roar, the critics are silent”. Shalev goes on to say,
Barak does not admit to any mistake, of course, and rightly so, as far as he is concerned. If indeed his steering was misguided, then perhaps we really didn’t have to come to this, perhaps someone else could have gotten different results with the same starting point, and then it would be impossible to say that we had no choice. Nevertheless, here is a partial list of things that could have been done differently:

a) Channelling the conflict into a situation of black and white dichotomy – agreement or conflict, with no middle ground, no shades of gray…...Barak went for the all-or-nothing approach. Not only did he fail to leave himself escape exits, he was quick to block those that others tried to open.

b) Unleashing the religious demons as a direct result of the need to discuss the holiest of holies on the way to the “end of conflict”….and the failure to prevent Ariel Sharons visit to the place…

c) Ignoring the personal dimension of the conflict; the lack of respect and the deprecation he often showed Yasser Arafat

d) The attempt to dictate, from the outset, all the rules of the game, from A to Z, including non-viable framework agreements, meaningless deadlines, and the procrastinating, patronizing attitude towards the Palestinians. First he asked for two months time for thought, then he turned up with the synergetic and simultaneous peace vision, and later he ordered the Palestinians to sit back and wait till he finished his flirt with Assad. Finally he brought them back on stage, and still complained that they were not in as much of a rush as he was.

e) Publicly and blatantly cornering Arafat in the international arena, starting with Clintons one sided speech in July…

And finally, here is a paragraph from an article by Akiva Eldar, published on October 30, on page 3 of Ha’aretz’s section B,
According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, Sharon does not need to join the government. Barak is doing his work better than Sharon did, and even better than Netanyahu. In the second quarter this year, there was a 51% rise in new building in the territories……All-in-all, during the first half of 2000, Baraks government has outdone the rate of the Netanyahu administration during the same term last year by 44%.”

These are not political claims raised by radicals in the opposition but facts of crucial news value…..and none of the newspapers take notice, and none of these facts ever appear in a single headline in the news pages.

This then is the first point: Barak ran his diplomatic affairs in a way that contradicted, by definition, the image of an objective experimenter testing the possibility of achieving peace…..It is certainly possible that Barak sincerely thought he was “turning every stone” on the way to peace; it is certainly possible that he thought he could put an end to the conflict with the Palestinians within fifteen months. But Barak’s private perspective was not supposed to win automatic acceptance from the newspapers – they should have examined the possibility that Barak actively contributed to the collapse of the peace process. This simply never happened.

The second point has to do with the experiments basic assumption – the assertion that the Intifada broke out , as Shavit put it, “just after Israel offered…to put an end to the occupation, recognise a Palestinian state, retreat from 95% of the territories, and even divide Jerusalem”.

What was the origin of this assertion? Did anyone know for a fact that Israel had indeed offered to put an end to the occupation, withdraw from 95% of the territories, and divide Jerusalem? It is indeed true that Barak told the journalists from time to time, but the fact is that throughout the month, and later as well, the newspapers never once tried to find out what exactly it was that Barak offered the Palestinians- not what Barak said he had offered, but what he had actually offered. Where exactly was the border supposed to lie? Which settlements were supposed to remain, and which were supposed to be evacuated? Did he, for instance, offer to dismantle the settlements in Kiryat Arba, a constant locus of friction with Palestinians in Hebron? And if not, in what sense did he offer to “put an end to occupation”? How many Palestinians were supposed to remain under Israeli sovereignty? How many seprate territories was the PA meant to be divided into as part of this agreement?……..

Such an examination could and should have also included real research into the Palestinian positions, publication of the maps Barak used (if indeed there were any) etc. Yet no such research was conducted, and the discussion about Arafat’s political intransigence was exclusively based on Barak’s suggestions. Consider, for instance the following…..published [in November] in section B of Ha’aretz,
Almost everyone in the political establishment now understands that peace, as well as this government, will stand or fall on the ‘Camp David understandings’ of July 2000. Almost no one knows what these understandings were. No one saw the document summing up these understandings, since there is no such document. Experienced diplomats cannot recall diplomatic talks of these kinds whose con
tent was not written down.

Ehud Barak’s version about turning every stone on the way to a peace agreement with the Palestinians was engraved in the public consciousness to such a degree that no one demands that he prove what he says…….The maps presenting Barak’s vision of the borders of the permanent status agreement were never revealed – not to the Palestinians, not to the Israeli public, not to cabinet members………When the impasse leads to fresh graves, the PM must stand up and present his proposal in full detail, so as to convince us that this is indeed a necessary war.”

The task of exposing his proposals fell of course to the media – the so-called watchdogs of democracy – but the papers preferred to keep their distance, and were content with stating that Barak did indeed “turn every stone” on his way to peace, and that Arafat had lost his sanity and was dragging the region to another war.

This version of events fits neatly within the view that Israel bears no responsibility for events. And the importance of this, is its corollary; if the situation is unrelated to Israel’s past actions, then there is no need for Israel to alter its policy and behaviour towards the Palestinians, as there will be no effect from such a change.

One manifestation of this is the oft heard lament there is no partner for peace”. Which is little more than an excuse. Whenever you hear this, just remember, it’s a desperate cry for Israel to be absolved of any responsibility for its actions.