Israel Musters for Peace

Snap to!

Israel's most-decorated military hero and now its prime minister is in a hurry to wage peace in the Middle East.

Click heels!

Like a good general, Ehud Barak plans to put back together the peace process that fell apart like Humpty-Dumpty three years ago under his predecessor, Benjamin Netanyahu.


He has carefully armed himself with a wide government coalition, full of snarly political parties that will be hard to unravel (75 of 120 seats in parliament). His process of odd-bedfellowing since his May election hints at how he will negotiate with Arabs: with steely patience, a let-bygones-be-bygones trust, and a Rubik's-Cube ability to fit competing interests.

Now, attention!

Here's what Mr. Barak's battle plan should be:

1. Engage your opponent. But who's first?

Mr. Barak's peace agenda is three-fold: Pull out of southern Lebanon; talk to Syria about returning the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights; restart the peace moves with the Palestinians.

If all of this works, the war-weary ex-general will fulfill the promise of Middle East peace begun by Egypt two decades ago and briefly revived by his mentor, the late Prime Minster Yitzhak Rabin, at Oslo in 1993.

His honeymoon may be short. Barak needs to act fast on all fronts. One initiative might be short-changed: Palestinians fear Syria will get first dibs at peace. Let's hope not.

2. Prepare to take risks.

How much of a security guarantee for Israel will Barak demand from Syria and the Palestinians?

Under Mr. Netanyahu, it was zero-tolerance for risks such as bomb threats. That was nearly impossible for Yasser Arafat to deliver. Barak has avoided the key word - reciprocity - that Netanyahu used effectively to stall peace. He needs to remind Israelis that giving up land for peace may not disarm certain anti-Israel radicals.

In his inaugural speech Tuesday, Barak invoked an Arafat phrase, calling for a "peace of the brave." These two ex-warriors know waging peace takes as much courage as waging war.

3. Dispel conspiracy theories.

To win Arab trust quickly, Barak must begin the agreed-to Israeli withdrawal from 13 percent of the West Bank and halt new Jewish settlements, especially in predominantly Arab East Jerusalem. Without these steps, his warm words about understanding the suffering of the Palestinians will be seen by Arabs as trickery.

4. Keep discipline in the ranks.

Barak has put external peace ahead of healing Israel's internal secular-religious friction. But the latter, if untended, could erode the considerable authority he has mustered and disrupt the peace process.

Let's hope his coalition reflects the broad interests of Israelis as reflected in his 56 percent election victory, and that he can march toward peace with his troops in step behind him.

Forward! March.

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