Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's success in blackening the name of Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat could not in itself explain why people are not taking to the streets to protest against Sharon's failure to deliver either peace or security.
Common sense would suggest that if Baker Sharon himself had accused his unruly neighbor of being solely responsible for the ruined dough, people would have turned to another baker. We should recall that blaming Arafat exclusively for all the problems then current did not help Benjamin Netanyahu get a second term as prime minister. Ironically, the one who managed to persuade even ardent peace crusaders that "we left no stone unturned" in the quest for peace and discovered only a poisonous snake was Ehud Barak, who had driven Netanyahu out of office.
Quite possibly the revival of the idea of population transfer also stems from a belief that the Barak government unmasked the Palestinians' monstrous face. Testimony from leading figures in the failed peace process, including president Bill Clinton, provides some moral authority for the present government's aggressive policies. The blame Labor cabinet members can pin on Arafat continues to provide safety belts to keep them firmly clamped in their ministerial Volvo seats.
The narrative - stating that Arafat rejected Barak's generous offer to retreat from 97 percent of the territories and to surrender the Temple Mount - has become the supporting pillar of thousands of articles published in Israel and overseas. As always, the immortal phrase of former foreign minister Abba Eban pops up - the Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.
The importance of the European Union document that summarizes the Taba talks does not lie in helping us to grasp the gaps that will remain when Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations are renewed. In any case, both sides will have to draw some necessary conclusions from the current intifada and update all the understandings reached since the Oslo Agreement. The chief virtue of the document prepared by the EU's Middle East envoy, Miguel Moratinos is the doubt it plants in the hearts of everyone who has made peace with the loss of hope for a political solution.
His reconstruction of the course of the talks and the first months of 2001 undermines the prevailing assumption that Barak made the Palestinians an offer they couldn't refuse. Barak was motivated not by generosity or an understanding of the other side's needs, but by the idea that "we are doing them a big favor by giving them so much."
Israel demanded to annex six percent of the territories, and lease another two percent. That is more than the upper limit of the Clinton proposal, according to which 94 to 96 percent was to be transferred to Palestine. Furthermore, Israel demanded that territory exchanges be at a ratio of two-to-one in its favor.
Barak also wanted to expropriate the large territory linking Ma'aleh Adumim and Pisgat Ze'ev and merge it with the Greater Jerusalem Metropolitan Area. The Barak map's practical implications would have been Israel's annexation of more than 200,000 Palestinian residents.
Nevertheless, the senior cabinet ministers both sides sent to Taba did not return home because they had arrived in a dead-end street over the right to return, or over a plot to liquidate Zionism. Because of Barak's political considerations, the Taba talks started too late and were halted too early for the same reason. Regrettably, since then, the politicians and commentators keep on falling into the same trap that became the Barak government's ultimate excuse.
To this day, nobody has denied the discovery in the European non-paper - that the parties agreed that implementing the refugee rehabilitation plan, whose principles were summarized in Taba, would be the implementation of United Nations General Assembly Resolution 194, and would end all demands on this issue.
One can mock Moratinos and declare that the Taba document, like the Clinton outline - like Arafat himself - is irrelevant. The public will buy this story so long as a Nobel Peace Prize winner, and Yitzhak Rabin's daughter, continue to sit in support of this policy.
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