There's a Jewish folk tale about Hershele of Ostropol, who was once given the task of presenting a schlemiel to the family of his bride to be. Hershele warned the prospective groom not to say a word to the family, lest his true colors be revealed. The would-be son-in-law complied scrupulously to the directive until his hosts began questioning the reason for his silence. One suggested he was deep in thought, another that he was shy, while a third proposed that he was a boor and an ignoramus.
No one would claim that Defense Minister Ehud Barak's silence was a camouflage for stupidity; he is known for his wit and wisdom. Still, Barak has been silent while everyone else around the Israeli-Palestinian negotiating table is talking. He apparently assumes he is behaving with supreme wisdom and will soon harvest the political fruits. But he has failed to consider that this behavior harms his party and illuminates another well-known aspect of his personality: his arrogance. Only an arrogant man purports to lead a country without indicating the direction.
Last Friday's Hebrew edition of Haaretz came with a carefully designed booklet produced by MK Benny Elon, chairman of the National Union, laying out the party's solution for the conflict with the Palestinians.
The plan's main points are as follows: the voluntary transfer of the Palestinian refugees living in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, using large monetary incentives (funded in part by the Arab petroleum-exporting states) to encourage them to settle in other countries; annexing Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) to Israel; designating Jordan as the Palestinian state and extending Jordanian citizenship to the Palestinians who remain in Judea and Samaria.
Everyone can draw their own conclusions about the seriousness and feasibility of Elon's "Israeli Initiative - The Right Road to Peace," but to his credit it should be said that he is presenting the public with a considered, well-organized program for ending the conflict with the Palestinians. Yisrael Beiteinu head Avigdor Lieberman did the same thing. He proposes redrawing the borders of the State of Israel to exclude the "Triangle" area and its Arab population while annexing large swathes of Judea and Samaria, with their Jewish settlers. He also calls for changing Jerusalem's municipal boundaries to leave tens of thousands of Palestinians outside.
On the opposite side of the political scale is Meretz, which has its own proposal: a total withdrawal from Judea and Samaria, apart from a small area that will be annexed to Israel in return for giving parts of the Negev to the Palestinian state. This party agrees to a division of Jerusalem in the spirit of Barak's proposals in the 2000 Camp David talks, and champions the solution that was on the table during the talks in Taba seven years ago.
Kadima, Likud and Labor lie within these two poles. Their visions for a permanent arrangement are less clearly defined. Kadima and Likud have given a pretty good idea of their positions, while Labor maintains complete ambiguity. In his speech to open the Knesset winter session last week, Likud Chairman Benjamin Netanyahu presented the party's main principles for an arrangement: The Jordan River is the eastern border of the State of Israel, Jerusalem remains undivided, Israel retains sovereignty over all holy sites, cooperation with Jordan and Egypt over final-status arrangements, a complete dismantling of the Palestinian terror infrastructure, resolving the refugee issue by dismantling the refugee camps and rehabilitating their inhabitants without bringing a single refugee into Israel.
The position of Kadima is fluid, both because its future is in doubt and because the party is currently leading the state and so has earned a degree of secrecy about its positions. It can be understood, however, that it seeks an arrangement that complements the establishment of a Palestinian state on the majority of the West Bank and Gaza Strip; that it opposes implementing the right of return for refugees and agrees to a redrawing of borders in Jerusalem.
The public is thus invited to judge the proposals for a permanent arrangement of the main parties, and only Ehud Barak's concealed positions remain a mystery. Has he remained faithful to his proposals of seven years ago, has he concluded that there is no longer a partner on the Palestinian side, or is he perhaps playing for time to perpetuate the status quo until an anti-missile defense shield is developed? Barak is wrong if he believes the public will follow him blindly.
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