3 - 9 June 1999
Issue No. 432
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875|
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Hard truths for BarakFollowing the election of Binyamin Netanyahu in June 1996, Arab leaders swiftly responded to an Egyptian call for a summit in order to agree on a common policy. The new premier's intentions as regards peace were known to all parties. Their agreement to link relations with Israel to progress in the peace process, and their commitment to the basic principle of exchanging land for peace, were among the main factors that led to Netanyahu's downfall three years later.
Arab leaders are also aware that negotiations with the newly elected Labour leader, Ehud Barak, will not be an easy task. The former Israeli chief of staff has always been a "hawk" when it comes to negotiations with the Palestinians.
The statements he has made so far, furthermore, have not been encouraging at all to many Arab parties, who were hoping that the elections would mark a new page of serious and honest negotiations. In his first speech after taking office, he clarified what he called the "four No's"; this week, Barak said he will not build any new settlements in the West Bank, but he will finalise the ones approved by the former Likud government. Such statements can only add to the doubts of many Arabs who have repeatedly warned that Barak is little different from Netanyahu. Building the dozens of settlements approved by the former extremist Likud government will take up most of the land the Palestinians have been counting on, and will destroy any hope they may have of eventually building their own state.
A small-scale Arab summit bringing together the countries directly involved in the peace process would have been a very good way of sending a strong message to the new Israeli leader that the Arab governments have not changed their stand. Such a meeting would also have convinced Barak that the Arabs oppose Israel's well-known policy of creating competition among the various peace tracks, particularly the Palestinian and Syrian ones. President Mubarak reminded Barak this week of the important truth he must recognise: the Palestinian cause is the core of the Arab-Israeli conflict, and the area will not experience true peace until the Palestinians have their own independent state -- like other countries in the region.