between Palestinians and Israelis, are bogged down for many reasons, but mainly due to a basic lack of confidence. Syria interrupted the talks with Israel because, in its view, Ehud Barak was dragging his feet on the Golan issue by refusing to negotiate the outline of the final border between Syria and Israel, based on the June 4, 1967, armistice lines. Israel's insistence that security arrangements and the content of the peace (normalization) must be agreed upon first, provoked only distrust and resentment in Damascus. On the other hand, Syria's high-handed manner of conducting the negotiations - sending its foreign minister to talk to Israel's prime minister, Farouk Al-Shara's refusal to shake hands and to talk directly to his negotiating partner - these were not exactly helpful in promoting a favorable climate for what, after all, was supposed to be a peace parley.
Moreover, while Prime Minister Barak kept lauding President Assad and the "great leader who created modern Syria," Hafez Al-Assad's mouthpiece, the daily Tishrin, published a viciously anti-Israeli editorial. Tishrin qualified Israel's policies as "Nazi-like behavior" and rushed to the defense of David Irving, an English historian who denies that six million Jews were exterminated in Auschwitz and other death camps during the Second World War. "Israel invented the legend of the Holocaust in order to squeeze money out of Germany and force a guilt-ridden Europe to support its Nazi policies... while trying to silence those who, like Mr. Irving, try to tell the truth about what really happened during the Second World War," wrote Tishrin.
Should one be surprised to learn, meanwhile, that a solid Israeli majority (around 70 percent) is opposed to giving back the Golan to Syria and does not believe in President Assad's desire to build a meaningful peace with Israel? Either the Syrian leadership is not really interested in the peace process or it is misreading Israel's political map. While President Assad is able to decide, with no questions asked, on the signing of a peace treaty with Israel, Prime Minister Barak's signature must be approved, first by the government, second by the Knesset (Israel's parliament) and, finally, by a national referendum. Until now, Syria's behavior, as dictated by Hafez Al-Assad, has systematically harmed Ehud Barak's efforts for peace with Damascus.
The situation is completely different on the Palestinian-Israeli track. While most Israelis believe that Yasser Arafat really wants to reach an agreement with Ehud Barak on the terms of a mutually acceptable peace, most Palestinians doubt that Israel's prime minister is ready to grant them a fair deal. Ehud Barak's behavior, both in form and in content, reflects a lack of consideration for Palestinian feelings and aspirations. They note his persistent refusal to consult or, at least, to inform the Palestinian Authority in advance on the successive withdrawal maps prepared by Israel.
Even more worrisome is Barak's rejection of Palestinian demands to place localities close to Jerusalem, such as Abu Dis, Al-Ezariyyah and others - today under partial Palestinian control (Zone B) - under full Palestinian control (Zone A). This is seen by Arafat as a bad sign for the future.
In his dealings with Syria, Israel's prime minister seems to be more forthcoming than vis-à-vis the Palestinians. While Barak goes out of his way to placate Hafez Al-Assad and is ready to confront a hostile Israeli public opinion, he seems to underrate the importance of the Palestinian issues, though most Israelis are ready for bigger concessions on this track than Barak. Thus, though a persistent majority of Israelis is convinced that the emergence of a Palestinian state is inevitable, this does not prevent Israel's prime minister from systematically refusing to take into account the creation of a Palestinian state alongside the State of Israel. In his negotiations with Arafat, Barak tries to get the Palestinians to accept the carving up of the West Bank so that Israel would annex about forty percent of the territory, creating a truncated Bantustan-like Palestinian entity.
Even on Jerusalem, Israelis appear to be more realistic, more flexible than Barak's government. Forty-five percent of Israeli Jews, polled by the Steinmetz Center for Peace Research at Tel Aviv University, consider that Jerusalem is in effect already divided into two cities - East and West Jerusalem. Moreover, close to one-third of Israeli Jews (28 percent) would accept that East Jerusalem become the capital of the future Palestinian state if this would eliminate the last obstacle to a peace agreement with the Palestinians.
Ehud Barak reiterates that peace with Syria will enable Israel to normalize its relations with the rest of the Arab world, not only with Beirut, following an agreed withdrawal of Israeli troops from Southern Lebanon. He is thinking of countries like Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states, Yemen, Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria. Is it possible that he has failed to internalize the fact that, without an equitable solution to the Palestinian problem, there will be no real peace, but at best a fragile state of non-belligerency between Israel and the Arab world? In that event, even the peace treaties signed with Egypt and Jordan would remain unfulfilled promises. In other words, the "cold peace" that Israel has been complaining about would not evolve on a broader scale into normal, friendly relations. This scenario is hardly compatible with the platform on which Ehud Barak was elected. <