Security was tight at UC Berkley for the Barak speech. The San Francisco Bay Area has a reputation for being an area with a lot of anti-semitic sentiment which is euphemistically termed “anti-Zionism”.
This is usually backed up by exhortations of “peace” from the anti-Israel crowd claiming that current PM Sharon and
Likud are the obstacles to that goal. Barak, the Labor leader of Israel’s Oslo government after the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, might have been considered to be in his element at Berkeley. But, even though he was warmly received by the majority of the audience, though not even a full house, such was not the case.
200 pro-Palestinians protested his speech outside and accused the diehard peacemaker of being the reason for no peace.
Barak is Israel’s most highly decorated soldier. He recounted some of his military experiences fighting for Israel as former Chief of Staff and the architect of Entebbe.
His experiences lent considerable credibility to his desire to find a peaceful solution with the Palestinian Arabs. Describing his failed attempts at a peaceful solution as being like the old Jewish joke about the man who tried to make a lifetime career out of coming late to every Jewish event but could never make it, Barak, although sometimes inarticulate with his english, still managed to eloquently state his case for peace, even if it seemed elusive as ever.
Referring to 9/11, the former Prime Minister said that worldwide terror is the new order of the day. Barak put himself on the line fighting terrorists. His stories of rescue missions and secret operations were mesmerizing and served to bolster his credentials as not just someone who talks the talk. He told several jokes to the audience which warmed them to him and everyone listened until some hecklers, quickly hustled out by police, only briefly interrupted him. He continued, however, like the experienced politician and speaker he is.
He said he sees Labor coming back to power in Israel in two years. Citing the short terms of his recent predecessors, most of whom served only 2 two or three years, Barak predicted a win for Likud by Sharon with Netanyahu in his shadow as Foreign Minister.
His reasoning was the Israeli public will not abandon a current leader in the middle of a war, and that a majority of Israelis (according to him) prefer to see the settlements dismantled and a true seperation between the Israelis and Palestinians to occur by the security wall currently being built. He seemed to feel that with more stability Labor would again emerge as the party to negotiate a peace with the Palestinians. However, this seemed odd in contrast to his own acknowledgement that the current Palestinian leadership is not in any way a viable peace partner.
Here in the Bay Area, the Palestinian movement has begun a new campaign of revisionist history by vilifying Barak and suggesting he never made Arafat any type of a decent offer at Camp David or Taba. And Barak dealt with such accusations. He outlined his offer to give 97% of the West Bank to the Palestinians, full repatriation to a Palestinian State of all Palestinians in the world, as well as reparations payments and partial control of Jerusalem. He further stated that he considered that offer a beginning point of negotiations and that Arafat rejected it and refused to even use it as a basis of negotiations. Clearly, he faulted Arafat for the breakdown of negotiations and the resulting 682 Israeli deaths which have followed. Still, as regards peace, it was never say die.
Pointing out a need not to persecute minorities, he convincingly pointed out a need for separation from the Palestinians if Israel is to maintain itself as a viable democracy. Without such separation, he reasoned, Palestinians would have to have limited self-rule to maintain the Jewish state which would be objectionable to democratic ideals. He outlined this in three steps:
- Palestinians need their own state.
- New borders reflecting Jewish sovereignty.
- Some of the settlements being dismantled and incorporated into existing ones within Israel’s new borders.
But to arrive at these goals he seemed to fall back on the old Labor pipe dream by saying this would be accomplished by fighting terror, restarting negotiations with the Palestinians with “no preconditions” and a trial program of separation. He predicted after a successful U.S. invasion of Iraq, Palestinian security services would then be organized under one head, with a new influx of institutions created to increase the tax base for funding, and making Arafat the equivalent of a Queen Mum. These ideas of course ring hollow given the current consolidation of PA security forces under Fatah and Al Aksa with Arafat as usual calling the shots, and legendary Palestinian corruption.
How does Barak propose to achieve these goals short of a Palestinian civil war and with PA opinion polls showing 88% of Palestinians in favor of dismantling the Jewish state by suicide bombings and without the expulsion of Arafat and his top leadership who will never agree to it? Nor did Barak address Palestinian incitement, the same neglect he showed during his tenure as the Prime Minister.
Barak did effectively counter the myths about Camp David his detractors on the Palestinian side have tried to use to revise history. His method of negotiating peace was sincere. Yet one wonders how such an old war horse, who does care about the People of Israel, could fall susceptible to negotiating their security like in the local soulk with merchants who are negotiating in bad faith and knowingly selling faulty products?
This was especially unnerving, given Barak’s conclusion to his speech that he didn’t think peace could be achieved for a very, very long time.