Where Was Barak When Israel and the Palestinians Were Working Out a Peace Deal?

Al Jazeera documents confirm that the former prime minister and Labor Party leader did nothing to advance the peace process with the Palestinians.

Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is immortalized in the Al Jazeera documents as the first Israeli leader to have conducted talks with the Palestinians worthy of the title "Negotiations on a Final Status Agreement." Former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni (now a Kadima MK and leader of the opposition ) is depicted as a politician who understands there can be no agreement with our neighbors without a division of Jerusalem but "in the meantime" wants to keep the city in one piece. Representatives of the Bush administration come across as lightning rods who emit little in the way of real initiatives. And members of the Palestinian delegation emerge as an experienced bunch who have set clear goals for themselves, have drawn up borders and refuse to believe they have no partner.

Ehud Barak
Amos Biderman

So, who's missing to complete the puzzle? That's right - Ehud Barak, chairman of the Labor Party and ultimately head of the new Atzmaut movement. Barak's thundering absence from the documents is a further black mark next to the name of he who was considered to be the great white hope of the Israeli peace camp. Barak, who in those days was considered the savior of the Labor Party, participated in the most intimate diplomatic and security forums. So where then was the leader of the shallow left (as opposed to the "deep left," as he refers to Meretz, and what he calls the "post-Zionist" camp led by MKs Isaac Herzog and Avishay Braverman ) hiding? What was the defense minister's contribution to the advancement of the negotiations?

The Palestinian documents confirm what Olmert and Livni have said: Barak did not lift a finger to advance the negotiations. Barak once said to me (in the presence of his former adviser Eldad Yaniv ) that he had dragged Yasser Arafat and President Bill Clinton to Camp David, since he knew the former was planning a second intifada. He wanted to ensure that when Israel would have to use force against the Palestinians, the international community would understand, knowing he had offered Arafat a very generous deal.

At the time, I asked Barak whether he seriously expected anyone would believe he lay down on the fence and was prepared to take the blame for the failure just to justify a crackdown by the Israel Defense Forces in the territories. He replied in his usual crisp way: "Absolutely."

Professor Daniel Bar-Tal of Tel Aviv University and Dr. Eran Halperin of the Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya, have investigated and found that 43 percent of Israelis who moved rightwards since the collapse of the Camp David talks in the summer of 2002 have justified their shift citing Barak's message: "We have no Palestinian partner."

Maj. Gen. (res. ) Amos Gilad, the diplomatic coordinator at the Defense Ministry and formerly the coordinator of activities in the territories, was one of Barak's key partners in the campaign to spread the no-partner message. Shortly before the publication of the Al Jazeera documents, Gilad spoke at an Institute for National Security Studies awards ceremony. He showed how his boss might be able to repair some of the damage done to Israel's moderate left through this message. Gilad described the Palestinian leadership, headed by President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, as the major brakes on Hamas and as an essential component in Israel's security. He characterized the two men as symbols of the new era launched with Arafat's departure.

Dr. Mati Steinberg, one of the prizewinners (for his book "Facing their Fate: Palestinian National Consciousness 1967-2007" ), later noted that it was Arafat who first adopted United Nations Security Council Resolution 242 (withdrawal from territories or the territories occupied in 1967 ) and accepted the 2002 Arab peace initiative. According to Steinberg, Arafat blazed the trail for Abbas to recognize Israel, to agree to exchanges of territory and to relinquish claims on Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem. All these agreements, also cited in the Al Jazeera documents, were on Barak's desk during the negotiations at Taba, which in two days' time will have been dead for 10 years.

So what was Barak doing while Olmert and Livni were spending their time in talks with the Palestinians from Ramallah? The leader of the peace camp was busy preparing for a war with the Palestinians of Gaza.

A dying man's last wish

This story will probably elicit responses of the following sort: "Why don't you mention that Hamas doesn't allow visits to Gilad Shalit?" Very well, then: The writer of these lines thinks that Hamas' abuse of Gilad Shalit and his family and the government's conduct in this tragic affair are inhumane and also stupid. But the same can be said of the denial of the request by Abdullah Mar'i, a 74-year-old resident of Jordan, to visit his son imprisoned in Israel, after he was sentenced to five life imprisonments in 2003. Mar'i, who suffers from a serious terminal illness and whose days are numbered, wanted to bid his final farewell to his son. The last and only time the two met was five years ago.

In July of last year, the Interior Ministry granted the request filed by attorney Elad Kahana of HaMoked Center for the Defense of the Individual and approved the father's entry into Israel. Despite his grave condition, Mar'i came to the Israeli Consulate in Amman to pick up the visa. He was told that the Foreign Ministry had decided to reconsider his request and was sent home. A few weeks ago, HaMoked prepared a petition to the High Court of Justice. The the day before it was submitted, though, the family notified the organization that the father's medical condition would not allow him to cross the bridge. A few days ago, Kahana received a brief letter from the Interior Ministry, saying that it had been decided to cancel the request citing "new information concerning the son's arrest."

New information about a person who has been in prison for seven years? What new information needs to prevent a dying man from bidding farewell to his son?