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What Bibi did, what Barak will do

May 31, 1999, Vol. 4, No. 35 • By CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER
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Moreover, the Labour party that Barak is leading is not the Labour party that Peres led. Barak has consciously tried to steer it towards the center, using Tony Blair and Bill Clinton as his model. His will be a different Labour government with a far different coalition. Rabin built his -- and pushed Oslo through -- with a very narrow coalition of the left, indeed a majority of one in the Knesset. Barak seems intent on building a broad coalition that represents the overwhelming 80 percent national consensus -- bequeathed him, ironically, by Netanyahu -- that favors territorial compromise so long as it does not return Israel to the '67 borders or redivide Jerusalem.

In the short run, Barak will be a lot easier for Arafat and Clinton to deal with. In the long run, he will be a lot harder. In the short run, he will undoubtedly go ahead with the rest of the Wye agreement. Wye commits Israel to pulling out of 13 percent of the West Bank. Netanyahu had pulled out of 2 percent when he halted the process and his government collapsed.

There is no doubt that Barak will give up the other 11 percent fairly rapidly. The result will be new life to the "peace process" -- since "peace process" is a euphemism for Israeli withdrawal. This will create much goodwill. Barak will be received in all the Arab capitals with a handshake and a smile. He will be toasted in Washington. He might even get as warm a reception from Bill Clinton as Yasser Arafat now routinely gets.

But this will all be temporary, because coming up are the final-status negotiations which are to determine once and for all the final borders between Israel and the Palestinians, the question of Palestinian statehood, the status of Jerusalem, and the future of the Palestinian refugees. On these issues, there is very little difference between Barak and Netanyahu. Barak might be a bit more willing to give a bit more territory with a bit more contiguity and show more tolerance for a Palestinian state. But Likud had all but conceded that there was going to be a Palestinian state. The only question is whether its powers be circumscribed. Will it be able to have an army? Will it be allowed to have alliances with Iraq and Syria or any other neighbor at war with Israel? Will it be allowed to have weapons of mass destruction? Will it have control of the air above and the water below?

Barak is not very far from Netanyahu and, indeed, from the Israeli consensus in believing that the answer to these questions must be no -- otherwise Israel becomes an unviable state and Palestine's creation makes Israel's demise only a question of time.

How long will the honeymoon last? I give it six months. It will come to an abrupt end when the Wye withdrawals have been completed and final-status negotiations are deadlocked. Barak will take a position identical to Netanyahu's against dividing Jerusalem, against a Palestinian state with unrestricted powers, against the return of refugees to Israel, and against retreating to the 1967 borders. On all of these demands the Palestinians have not moved an inch in the six years since Oslo.

That is when the crunch will come. That is when this administration -- which fancies itself, against all evidence, the most pro-Israel administration in American history -- will be tested. It is sure to be tested, because something has happened on the Palestinian side of this equation that has been entirely overlooked by the press and allowed to pass unmentioned by the administration: While everyone had their eyes fixed on Netanyahu, Arafat moved the goal posts.

Remember: Oslo is explicitly based on U.N. Security Council resolutions 242 and 338, which call for a return of the territories captured in 1967 in exchange for peace. But for the last few months Arafat has been going around the world saying that the new Palestinian position is to establish a state based on U.N. General Assembly Resolution 181 of 1947.

That may all sound arcane. But it is not. The U.N. partition plan of 1947 created a Jewish state in part of Palestine. It was unanimously rejected by the Arab states and the Palestinians, who responded by launching a war to destroy the newly created Israel. But the Jewish state outlined in Resolution 181 was a much smaller state than the one that emerged from the war launched by the Arabs to nullify it. Not only were parts of the Galilee and the Negev given to the Arabs under this plan, but Jerusalem was an international city. To return to 181 means that not just East Jerusalem (captured in '67) would be lost to Israel, but West Jerusalem -- exclusively and always Jewish -- as well.

Arafat's new stance is an astonishing violation of the spirit of Oslo. After all, the whole idea of Oslo was that both sides would start from initial positions and over time move towards each other with concessions. That Israel has done. It has essentially accepted a Palestinian state. It has recognized the PLO. It has given legitimacy to Arafat and his Palestinian Authority. It has given up large amounts of territory. It has transferred 98 percent of Palestinians from Israeli occupation to Palestinian self-rule.

And yet at the same time, the Palestinians are moving in precisely the opposite direction, demanding not just all of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, but now, under 181, claiming large chunks of pre-'67 Israel and delegitimizing Israeli claims to any part of Jerusalem, east or west.

While receiving almost no attention in the United States, this radical expansion of Palestinian claims has received a sympathetic hearing in Europe. The European Union sent a letter to Israel, written by the German foreign minister, saying that the EU position on Jerusalem is that it is a "corpus separatum" -- a separate body, an international zone as understood in resolution 181 -- which means that the EU questions Israel's sovereignty over even West Jerusalem.

One would have thought that the administration, committed as it is to Oslo, might have protested this development and reprimanded Arafat for this gross retrogression. Instead, Clinton has greeted him with kisses on both cheeks.

Why is Arafat doing this? Robert Satloff, head of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, calls this 181 maneuver Arafat's "insurance against Barak." Satloff's theory is that by moving the goal posts, Arafat makes certain that even a Labour-led government can never come to a final agreement with him, because no one in Israel is going to give up parts of the Galilee and Negev and West Jerusalem.

Why would Arafat want to prevent an agreement? Because through his entire career he has lived on crisis, conflict, and tension which he tries to exploit to advance his cause, which, as he tells his own people if not Americans, is ultimately a Palestinian state sovereign over all of Palestine. Maybe not in this lifetime, but eventually.

He doesn't want to close the case. He doesn't want to give up claims irrevocably. He would like one interim agreement after another -- always advancing, always gaining more territory, yet always leaving the question of Israel's legitimacy and Israel's territorial integrity in play. In short, he wants a peace process, not peace. Because real peace -- a real final-status agreement -- means the obsolescence of the Palestinian cause and the end of the Palestinian dream. Those he is not prepared to give up.

Even if one takes the more benign view -- that Arafat is simply doing this to give himself more negotiating cards to play -- the resurrection of the long-dead Resolution 181 spells great trouble ahead. Barak's election means just a short postponement of that trouble. Those who believe peace is at hand are sadly mistaken. Even if Barak were to go much further than he wants to go today, he can never go near Arafat's new goal post. For all of the goodwill and the handshaking and the hugging that you will see in the next few months between Arafat and Clinton and Barak and the rest, there is trouble over the horizon. In six months, after Wye, Barak will say no. And then Clinton and Arafat and the world will recognize that the problem was not Netanyahu but the Israeli consensus for peace he helped forge -- a consensus that will not mindlessly keep moving toward the Palestinians as the Palestinians move away.

Charles Krauthammer is a contributing editor to THE WEEKLY STANDARD.