Al-Ahram Weekly   Al-Ahram Weekly
11 - 17 May 2000
Issue No. 481
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875 Issues navigation Current Issue Previous Issue Back Issues

Front Page

Ending the evasion

By Ibrahim Nafie

Ibrahim Nafie There can no longer be any doubt that Israel is wriggling out of its commitments towards a full and comprehensive peace. The evidence is undeniable. The Israeli government, in its direct negotiations with the Palestinians, in US-mediated negotiations with the Syrians and in UN-mediated contacts with the Lebanese, has systematically shown that the promises made by Barak, a man who has consistently stated his willingness to take difficult decisions and accept responsibility for them, are utterly hollow.

Over the last few months there has been no indication at all the process is advancing on the Palestinian track: indeed, we have seen nothing but a categoric refusal to do anything other than play around with agreements rather than implement them. Commitments, deadlines, resolutions, are continually disregarded, everything is postponed again and again, every commitment revised and re-revised. Meanwhile, Israel displays an unprecedented appetite to escalate its settlement building programme, a programme whose only object is to seize land, denying those rights supposedly enshrined in agreements to which Israel was a willing signatory.

This disregard for peace, for progress in negotiations with the Palestinians, is reflected too on the Syrian and Lebanese tracks. Israel's seemingly straightforward declaration of its intention to unilaterally withdraw from southern Lebanon in accordance with UN resolution 425 is turning into just one more example of its penchant for prevarication and obfuscation. Similarly, negotiations with Syria have been characterised by endless Israeli back-tacking over earlier commitments to withdraw from the Golan Heights. At the same time, Israeli attacks on Lebanese citizens, and on the infrastructure of the country, have become all too predictable despite the overwhelming evidence that such attacks serve only to strengthen Lebanese resistance and the determination that Israel must withdraw from all occupied Arab territories.

The cost, in terms of destruction, caused by Israel's mindless, repeated aggressions, will never undermine resistance; rather it serves to strengthen resolve. This is the lesson of recent history, a lesson all have understood except, it seems, for the Israeli government, who appear more determined than ever not to see that which is obvious to everyone else. Sadly, this is a trait that is developing into a pathology that informs all their decisions.

What exactly are Barak's intentions? If we judge from the evidence, it is almost impossible to conclude that peace and stability rather than endless violence top his agenda.

Barak endlessly points to the fragility of the coalition he heads as some kind of excuse for his consistent refusal to take the difficult decisions that are necessary to secure peace, an excuse that is as endlessly repeated by his supporters both within Israel and outside the region. As an excuse, though, it can barely be said to hold water. All governments confront internal difficulties -- though only successful ones do so with clarity. Appropriate decisions require a vision of purpose, a vision that does not include the exploitation of neighbours, or the constant entering into of agreements only to wriggle out of them almost immediately. Successful governments do not depend on the abrogation of the rights of others for their success. Let us be perfectly clear about the excuses that emanate from Tel Aviv: they are no more than common blackmail, blackmail that we categorically reject.

Prospects for peace are steadily becoming exhausted. For them to be revivified requires that Barak review his previous promises with the intention of incorporating them in a final and lasting settlement, for that is the only way to bring peace to the region.

The Arab position is perfectly clear. It is no circumvention of the truth to state that there really is nothing more that the Arabs can give up in return for peace. Both Lebanon and Syria, in the positions they have adopted, have the full weight of right, justice and international legitimacy on their side. Neither Syria nor President Assad, nor Egypt, nor any Arab, will countenance anything less than full withdrawal to 4 June, 1967 borders. For this is the benchmark, the one point that cannot be compromised no matter how intense the pressures are from Israel, or how devious the politicking. No one in Syria, now or in the future, is foolhardy enough to give up legitimate demands. And this is something the Israelis must take on board, for without doing so they will be incapable of capitalising on the opportunities that exist for the entire region. The flexibility that the Syrians have shown on other issues -- water resources, border security arrangements, normalisation -- confirm their commitment to peace with this single proviso: land will not be given up.

Neither is Lebanon demanding the impossible. Full withdrawal from south Lebanon, after all, constitutes a bare minimum, one fully backed by international legitimacy and a necessary signal of Israeli commitment to peace and its intentions towards its neighbour. Anything other than such an unconditional withdrawal represents a step into the unknown. Israeli ambiguity over a commitment to the 1923 borders, its insistence on keeping a proxy armed force in the area or insisting on its incorporation into the Lebanese national army, its lack of clarity over Lebanese off-shore territory, serve inevitably to muddy the waters. Neither do the crude military threats against Lebanon coming from the mouth of Israel's foreign minister David Levy, nor Israel's constant infringements of Lebanon's airspace and repeated attacks on its infrastructure, serve the cause of peace. Rather, they appear to betray the kind of deceptions that precede preparations for war. Israel's military machine has succeeded in hitting any number of civilian targets, destroying power stations and water purification plants, and killing many innocent Lebanese in the process. What it will not succeed in doing is undermining the determination to liberate occupied lands.

Arabs are perfectly aware of Israel's politicking, and the levels of deceit and ill will they betray. Egypt has already warned against continuing with such a course, continuing with the ploys that have failed time and time again.

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