In Mideast, patience wears thin
One year after his landslide victory, Ehud Barak's peace plans are unraveling and his approval rates are dropping.
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But about 1,600 Palestinians still remain in Israeli jails, and few Palestinians have seen any palpable gains in their quest for more autonomy in Barak's year in office. Palestinian living standards have in fact decreased dramatically since the Oslo Accords were signed in 1993, according to a study just released by the Center for Economic and Social Rights, a New York-based human rights group.Skip to next paragraph
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In another gesture, the Israeli Cabinet on May 15 approved Barak's plan to transfer the villages of Abu Dis, Eizariyeh, and Sawahreh to full Palestinian control in a move Barak said was necessary to avoid "stalemate and deterioration" in peacemaking.
However, the timing of the announcement, although a confidence-building measure to the Palestinians, is a grave violation to Israeli hard-liners of the quid pro quo mantra repeated by Netanyahu.
And although Barak came to office with a promise to unite the nation, Israelis remain acutely divided over the land-for-peace project. At a demonstration that packed Jerusalem's Zion Square the night of May 15, right-wingers decried Barak's planned handover of the three villages as a move that will give the Palestinians a foothold in Jerusalem and access to its holy shrines.
"When they turn the guns we gave them on us, they don't deserve to get more," says Moshe Rand, a student at a protest attended by approximately 70,000 demonstrators. "These villages are close to Jerusalem, and they'll use them as a base to attack us. I'm surprised that Barak, who fought against terrorism his whole life, would agree to this."
Barak's initial preference to leave negotiations with the Palestinians in screen-saver mode while he clicked on what seemed a more attractive program - clinching a peace deal with Syria - proved to be time spent waiting for a less-than-anxious partner in Damascus while Palestinian anger simmered, and unmet deadlines passed.
"His decision to put most of his energy into Syria means now we've wasted time, even if it was out of his desire to make peace," says Professor Rubin.
On the domestic front, analysts are concerned that Barak could find himself in a situation where he would be forced to rule without a majority in parliament.
If the Shas party quits Barak's government, says Hebrew University political scientist Ehud Sprinzak, Barak will no longer be able to wear the mantle of being "the prime minister of everyone" as he promised in his campaign a year ago.
For Shas, representing Jews with Mideast origins, the crisis is a time to flex its muscles as the largest bloc in Barak's coalition and press for more funds for its network of religious schools. But two other parties in the coalition, key pro-peace partners, say they will quit if Barak gives in to Shas's extortionist tactics.
Running alongside are a host of internal economic gripes, including plans by Israel's largest labor union to hold a general strike in two weeks to protest tax-reform proposals, Barak is finding his game plan for peace and prosperity getting sidetracked by everything from Palestinian prisoners to pothole politics.
"As long as these parties were in the government, he could say that he represented both sides of the political spectrum," says Mr. Sprinzak. "This decision is going to weaken that image and make this government seem a lot more leftist. This nation is divided, and we thought some sort of a new consensus could be built."
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society