Ehud Barak still doesn’t get it.
According to a piece by Ben Caspit and Merav David in yesterday’s print edition of Ma’ariv, when Barak met U.S. envoy George Mitchell in New York, he told him that in 2000 “I was the Israeli prime minister who took the most bold steps to make peace, and that year also saw the greatest extent of new construction.” For Barak this was proof that building like mad doesn’t get in the way of negotiations. Alas for a country with men like this as leaders.
It’s true that settlements expanded at a ferocious pace under Barak. Trying to co-opt extremists, he handed the Housing Ministry to settlement advocate Yitzhak Levy. During the Camp David summit in the summer of 2000, I had a day of reserve duty in the West Bank. The bus to the base meandered through settlements deep in the territory. Again and again, I saw signs advertising new developments.
But that’s precisely one of the things that foiled his negotiating efforts. The building shattered trust before Barak ever got to Camp David. Yes, he talked about peace. In the meantime, his government was demonstrating that it intended to hold onto land. Barak, who once described negotiating to me as akin to Greco-Roman wrestling — “a form of struggle with agreed rules” — did not understand that trust is part of diplomacy, that if you enter the process as if you want to impose surrender on the other side, they will read all your proposals in the most negative light. He destroyed the worth of his own offers. As Robert Malley and Hussein Agha wrote:
[T]he steps Barak undertook to husband his resources while negotiating a historical final deal were interpreted by the Palestinians as efforts to weaken them while imposing an unfair one.
The Israeli right was not, in fact, co-opted. Neither were the Palestinians. But for Ehud the Obtuse, if negotiations failed, it was wholly the other side’s fault. In the nine years since, in his effort to protect his own reputation, he has worked to convince the Israeli public that there was never a partner for peace. In the process, he has left his own party without a platform, and shattered it electorally. And now, since he can’t see his mistakes, he wants to repeat them.