The conventional, diplomatic Palestinian response to Baraks resignation and its impact on the Palestinians is the usual refusal to meddle in Israeli domestic issues or internal politics. Despite these protestations, the Palestinian-Israeli equation and realities are so interdependent as to create a multi-tiered, direct impact zone or interface between the two.
Regardless of the domestic reasons behind such a political maneuver, be they Baraks need to preempt Netanyahu or his Labor challengers or his own parliamentary crisis, or even to take the initiative on the inevitable, it is clear that both the causes of Baraks political demise as well as the ramifications are directly, if not exclusively, linked to the Palestinian scene.
Barak first wreaked havoc in the peace process by claiming to be the most decisive peace partner and then presenting proposals that failed to meet the minimal requirements of peace. By denying the basic rights of the Palestinians and violating the legal foundations of the peace process, Barak proved that he lacked the vision and political will necessary for ending the conflict. In addition, his racist policies of occupation, settlement expansion, collective punitive measures, and land confiscation did not signal to the Palestinian people any seriousness of intent or good will. This culminated in his brutal military assault against the captive Palestinian people as evidenced by the deployment of tanks and helicopter gun ships, the shoot-to-kill policy of snipers using lethal high velocity bullets, the deliberate assassination and extra-judicial killings of activists and faction leaders, the shelling of Palestinian homes and institutions, the uprooting of trees and destruction of crops, and the imposition of a multiple siege on all Palestinian villages, towns and camps.
Now, Barak by going over the heads of the Knesset (where he has lost his majority) is seeking a new mandate from the Israeli people as a vote of confidence in his vision of peace. The question is: does Barak have a new vision of peace? So far, the evidence is negative. Having failed with his previous, short-sighted and flawed policies, what makes Barak think that he can sell this vision once againwhether to the Israeli public or to the Palestiniansas a policy capable of succeeding now where it had failed before? Does he think that having brutalized the Palestinians (whether in Israel or in Palestine) he can now convince them that he has suddenly and miraculously become a genuine advocate of peace and justice? Or is this another desperate attempt to gain more legitimacy with the Israeli electorate by proving to be just as hard line and cruel as the right wing alternative?
The mentality of the military general, tainted by decades of a brutal and racist occupation, is that which makes Barak suffer from the illusion that the purpose of both the peace process and his policy of military repression is to
defeat the Palestinians and break their will. It is not surprising that he has failed in both. Barak has to decide whether he can present himself as the savior of peace or the champion of settlements or the military oppressor of the captive Palestinian people. He cannot be all things to all people.
Now that he has delivered his bombshell and created a new 60-day time frame, a new form of mobilization is taking place. Most western capitals, not least of which Washington, have rallied to save Barak under the misguided notion that they are saving peace. It is expected that tremendous pressures will be exercised on the Palestinian Authority to come to Baraks rescue as a means of salvaging peace, the alternative being much worse.
The clear response is that Barak has not proven himself to be a peacemaker; his own policies and measures have led directly to this latest tragic breakdown and have destroyed any vestiges of confidence or trust that may have existed earlier.
Nor can the Palestinians be scared into signing a flawed agreement to save Baraks political career out of fear of the Likud. He himself has outdone the Likud (and with total impunity) thereby leaving the Palestinians with nothing to fear.
The Palestinians cannot use their credit to offer Barak a political lifelinethe credit being our rights and lands and the legitimacy of the leadership with their own constituency. Neither self-sacrifice nor self-negation by the Palestinians can serve the cause of peace. On the contrary, an unjust and fatally flawed agreement, forced on the Palestinians by misguided pressure and panic politics, will only backfire.
The real requirement is for a drastic and genuine transformation in the prevailing mindset within the Israeli body politic and political elite. Any strategy for peace capable of achieving its minimal aspirations has to address the basic requirement of full Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 boundaries (including Jerusalem) and the removal of all settlements. Rather than accommodating the illegal and unjust realities imposed by force of occupation, a real peace process must nullify them and create new paradigms for a different set of relationships based on mutuality and parity.
Regardless of the name of the individual or party concerned, the Palestinians are in search of an Israeli peace partner who not only recognizes the imperatives of a just peace, but who also has the courage and leadership to act accordingly. Peace is not just an Israeli domestic issue, nor is it a factor of individual political careers or party rivalries and maneuvers.
When the fate of nations and the future of generations are at stake, the ethos and vision of peace remain much larger than the sum of individual components and careers.