While these pages do not provide sufficient space for a comprehensive refutation of Brent Sasley’s thoughtful response to my remarks on Ehud Barak, I would nevertheless like to make the following points (for a fuller treatment of the points at issue, I refer readers to my book, The Other Side of Despair):
At the recent Saban Forum in New York, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton declared: “I do think that, if Yitzhak Rabin had not been assassinated, there would have been peace by now between Israel and the Palestinians. I do believe that." While it is true, as Sasley writes, that “settlement building continued apace under Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, and Benjamin Netanyahu,” the figures do not give a true picture of settlement policy, due to the delay in implementation. Under Rabin there was a genuine re-direction of resources from West Bank settlement toward internal Israeli development and welfare. This would ultimately have been reflected in the settlement figures if he had lived.
Whereas Rabin learnt a clear lesson from the First Intifada, leading to his acceptance of the Oslo Accords, Barak apparently did not. As IDF Chief of Staff, he opposed Olso and, although he promised to continue on Rabin’s path when he became Prime Minister, he manifestly did not keep his promise. He openly ditched Rabin’s step-by-step approach, which he thought left Israel “without any cards to play in the negotiations,” in favor of an ill-advised attempt to settle a century-long conflict at Camp David in a matter of days.
While it is true that Barak offered unprecedented concessions at Camp David, he acted with almost childish petulance when his offer was not immediately accepted.
The reason that Palestinians began to question the benefits of Oslo almost at once were largely economic. Although the Palestinian economy was slowly starting to take off after Oslo, it suffered the loss of half its GDP for two reasons, both connected with the first Gulf War of 1991. One, Israel for the first time limited the number Palestinian workers who were employed in Israel. Two, some 400,000 Palestinians, who were earning good money and sending it home, were expelled from Kuwait, which admittedly was the fault of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat for expressing support for Saddam Hussein.
Barak showed no sympathy or understanding for the plight of the Palestinians. The Second Intifada could have been contained and the situation calmed, but Barak chose to respond to it with force. Many senior IDF officers had openly stated that a failure to react to the First Intifada with sufficient force enabled the Palestinians to “win,” with Oslo as the result. With the outbreak of the Second Intifada, Barak gave his former army colleagues a free hand. In the first week of the violence, sixty Palestinians were killed, compared to five Israelis—a proportion that continued for three more months.
The Israeli claim that the Palestinians planned the Intifada has never been proved. I refer Sasley to Ronen Bergman’s 500-page book Authority Given (Hebrew), where a meticulous examination of Palestinian documents seized by the IDF failed to come up with a “smoking gun,” showing orders from Yasser Arafat, or anyone else, that called for violent action.
What's more, I simply do not understand Salsey’s tolerance of Barak’s totally contradictory accounts of what happened at Taba. Surely, at the very least, they make him an unreliable witness. I reiterate my contention that Barak’s constant refrain that “there is no one to talk to,” effectively destroyed the Israeli peace movement, which has still not recovered.
And, lastly, Salsey’s contention that “Netanyahu is not an extremist” has surely finally been refuted by the Israeli Prime Minister’s own actions in these past few days, carried out it should be stressed with Barak still by his side.
I do not feel any obligation to take up Salsey’s challenge, “who does Gavron think will replace Barak?” Israel, thankfully, is still a democracy (if we exclude the occupied territories), so the matter will be decided democratically. Neither he nor I can appoint Israel’s next Defense Minister.
While I think it likely that Netanyahu will be Prime Minister again after the coming Israeli elections, I do not accept it as a certainty. Either way, I am glad we have seen the last of Ehud Barak—whether in his role as a politician or a tactician—at least I hope we have.