Barak, Netanyahu and Mainstream Israel Thinking

By Gershon Baskin, Ph.D.

Wednesday, December 19, 2001

 For the past three days I have had a unique opportunity to participate in Kenes Herzliya – this is an annual event (this was the second meeting) of a gathering of the entire Israeli military, security, and military industrial establishment. The subject of the conference was “The Balance of Israel’s Strength and National Security”.  Kenes Herzliya is organized by Dr. Uzi Arad, the former Political-Security advisor to Prime Minister Netanyahu and the former head of Research at the Mossad.  There were hundreds of participants from all spheres of the Israeli security elites and establishments. Speakers at Kenes Herzliya included Chief of Staff Shaul Mofaz, Former Head of GSS Ami Ayalon, Former Prime Ministers Ehud Barak and Binyamin Netanyahu, Minister of Defense Binyamin Ben Eliezer, Director of the Mossad Ephraim Halevy, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, Former CIA Director Jim Woolsey and more.

 On a personal note, this was the most right-wing gathering that I have ever participated in and for me it was a fascinating learning experience. The organizers will produce a book of summaries and recommendations from the conference that will be made public on Israel’s Independence Day next year.

 I would like to share with you my impressions from the presentations made at the conference by former Prime Ministers Barak and Netanyahu.  These two presentations, in my view, give a pretty good picture of the mainstream thinking in Israel today. While it is understood that neither of these gentleman are in a position of power today, their thinking greatly represents the mainstream of Israeli public thinking and they both help to design and lead public thinking in Israel today.  I think that it is important to take a good look at these positions.

Shared Positions by Barak and Netanyahu

  • September 11th marks a change in international relations from which the State of Israel has already benefited from and will continue to benefit from. The United States and the Western world today have a clear understanding of the dangers of terrorism and are now leading a world war aimed at wiping terrorism off the face of the planet. The United States has no adopted and supports Israel’s position on terrorism.

  • The United States will be successful in its war against terrorism. The success of the victory in Afghanistan will serve as deterrence for other states that support terrorism and/or give refuge to terrorists.

  • The World War against terrorism will continue after Afghanistan to places such as Somalia, Sudan, Lebanon and Syria.  Iraq and Iran are also on the “radar scopes” of the Americans and they will also be dealt with in various ways.

  • It is inconceivable that Saddam Hussein will be left in place when the World War against terrorism is completed.

  • Thanks to the position of the United States, it is now understood by the entire world that there is no “good terrorism and bad terrorism”.  All terrorism is bad and no state should make compromises to terrorism.  Terrorism must be destroyed.

  • There is no effective deterrence against suicide terrorists. Therefore, deterrence can be created by attacking those states and regimes that support terrorism and encourage terrorism. Those regimes that cannot be made to understand that they must stop supporting terrorism and that they must destroy the terrorist infrastructure will pay the price of no longer existing.  This is the policy of the US and the actions against the Taliban should help to provide real deterrence for other regimes, including the Palestinian Authority.

  • The Palestinians made a strategic error when they interpreted the Israeli withdrawal from South Lebanon as an act of Israeli weakness.

  • The Palestinians had two main strategic aims for the intifada – (1) internationalization of the conflict; and (2) creating rifts and cleavages in Israeli society. The Palestinians have failed to achieve these aims – Israeli society is stronger and more unified than ever before, and rather than putting pressure on Israel, the international community has put pressure on Arafat and on the Palestinian Authority.

  • Israel cannot allow Arafat or the Palestinian Authority to achieve its strategic goals, at all costs this must be avoided.

  • Israel cannot allow Arafat or the Palestinian Authority to achieve any political gains as a result of violence and terrorism; this would be the surest way to guarantee that the violence will only increase.

  • Israel must face the real probability that reaching peace agreements with the Palestinians at this time and at any time in the foreseeable future is not at all likely.

  • Arafat is not a partner. Arafat is not willing to accept the existence of the State of Israel as Israel defines itself – a Jewish state.  Arafat’s demand for the right of return means that what he wants is a Palestinian state in the 1967 borders and a bi-national state inside of Israel.  For Israel this is a non-starter.  Until there are Palestinian leaders who are really willing to accept Israel as a Jewish state and explicitly give up the right of return there can be no “end of conflict agreements”.

  • Understanding that there can be no peace agreement that will put an end to the conflict requires Israel to take direct responsibility for its own security and its own future.

Beyond these many points of agreement, the following outlines the points of differences between Barak and Netanyahu and the more specific details of how each of them view the future.


Barak’s Plan

  • While actively fighting against terrorism, Israel should implement a unilateral policy of separation – “us here and them there”. This plan should be implemented over the course of four years.  The plan must be detailed and announced to the world.  If the Palestinians agree, they can cooperate and work out ways of benefiting from it, if they do not agree, Israel should go ahead with the plan according to its design.

  • The plan is based on creating 5 settlements blocks that would include about 12-13% of the West Bank, the Jordan Valley would stay in Israel’s hands accounting for about 12% of the West Bank.  All isolated settlements would be vacated, but not while the violence continues. The goal should be to relocate all settlers from settlements removed over a four-year period.  The four years are necessary both for building new housing and for creating a period of calm and quiet before Israel removes a single settlement. The five settlement blocks already account for 80% of the settlers.  The removal of the isolated settlements accounts for the remaining 20%. Israel will construct whatever fences, blockades, walls, and formal crossing points that are necessary to protect its security and the security of the Israeli people. It is conceivable to imagine that some Palestinian labor will continue inside of Israel after the separation plan is in effect.

  • The plan for separation is both for Israel security and defense needs but equally important for protecting a significant Jewish majority in the State of Israel.  If Israel does not implement this plan for separation it will either become a bi-national state or it will become an apartheid state.  In either of these two cases, it is the end of Zionism and the Zionist dream.

  • There can and should be fences and blockades in and around Jerusalem as well. There can be fences on the outer borders of Jerusalem as well as fences and checkpoints inside of Jerusalem that will work according to the security situation on the ground and as needed. 

  • Israel must be concerned with the welfare of the innocent Palestinian civilian population and should work with the international community in supporting the economic and welfare needs of the Palestinian people.

  • The Palestinians can declare statehood over the territories beyond the fence. Israel will retain the right to take care of its own security needs through the security perimeter that will exist around the Palestinian entity. Israel will control the international borders of the Palestinian state.

  • Israel must always leave a very wide window open for negotiations for such a time when the Palestinian leadership is able to accept the challenge of coming back to the negotiating table.  This can only be after they Palestinians have successfully put an end to terrorism against Israel.


Netanyahu’s Plan  

  • The collapse of the Palestinian regime must be brought about. Arafat must understand that there is a price for breaching agreements, and the only price that Arafat and those with him understand is the loss of their regime.  No regime that would rise after Arafat would be worse than Arafat. The security situation cannot be worse than it is now. If Hamas takes power, a possibility that Netanyahu doubts, Israel’s room for maneuvering would be broadened in the context of international opinion.

  • Israel should express its sincere desire to re-enter into negotiations with the Palestinians.  The first subject on the agenda should be the refugee issue.  If the Palestinians are unwilling to declare explicitly that they accept that there will not be a right of return for Palestinian refugees, then the negotiations on other issues will not begin.

  • If Israel builds a fence, it should be a one-way fence – the Palestinians cannot enter Israel but Israel retains the right to enter into the Palestinian areas, if the Palestinians do not effectively fight against terrorism. A fence is a means and not an alternative to a political or a diplomatic solution. This is a means that should be considered but the most important question is where to put the fence. Under no circumstances should the fence be placed along the 1967 lines that would bring the Palestinian closer to Israel.

  • Until there is a trust-worthy Palestinian regime the question of Palestinian statehood is not to be considered at all. Palestinian statehood and sovereignty would require that Israel agree to Palestinian control over their own air space, the water rights, external borders, etc. All of these issues pose a real strategic and existential threat to the State of Israel. When a different, more “realistic” and more responsible Palestinian leadership emerges Israel will be ready to enter into negotiations with that leadership. Until that time, Israel’s main task is to protect its citizens and the interests of Israel.