Barak the peacemaker?

Author:Album, Andrew
Position:Includes related article on Palestinian's reactions to Barak's election - New Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak
 
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Israel's new prime minister often invokes his Labor predecessor Yitzhak Rabin. But can he seize Rabin's mantle and conclude a final settlement with the Palestinians, as well as agreements with Syria and Lebanon?

After the initial euphoria of Ehud Barak's seismic win in Israel's prime ministerial elections last month, things have quietened down in the Middle East. For the last month, the One Israel leader has been absorbed in the complex task of constructing a workable coalition government from the myriad of parties that make up the country's new parliament. As a result, virtually no time has been spent dealing with diplomatic and international issues. But there is little doubt that as soon as the administration is settled in, Barak will begin to focus on his core objective of concluding peace deals with Israel's neighbours.

The defeat of Binyamin Netanyahu and his ruling Likud Party has certainly been welcomed in the Arab capitals. Whilst some Palestinian activists have been muttering that there is little difference between Israel's incoming and outgoing leaders, Yasser Arafat and other Arab leaders know that this is certainly not the case. Ehud Barak will certainly be no pushover. He will not simply accede to all the demands that others make regarding territorial withdrawal and suchlike. But he has a fundamental ideological commitment to see through the task that Yitzhak Rabin began and bring peace to the region.

There should be no doubt that there will be problems on the way to achieving a final settlement. Extremists on both sides disrupted the process before - with incidents such as Hamas' terrorist attacks and Yigal Amir's assassination of Rabin - and could well try to do so again. But with Netanyahu gone, there are now real prospects that comprehensive deals can be reached.

The question being asked in many of Israel's neighbouring countries is, what kind of agreements does Ehud Barak envisage?

THE PALESTINIANS

In the run up to Israel's general election, Ehud Barak made his position with regard to the Palestinians clear. "I will renew the peace process within the Oslo framework," he declared. However, the One Israel leader is adamant that with regard to borders, Israel will "under no circumstances return to those of 1967".

Any deal must be negotiated. This means that Barak will not agree to the unilateral establishment of a Palestinian state. But that does not mean that the new administration is opposed to the creation of a Palestinian state.

"Based on the belief that the Jewish state cannot rule over another people, we propose a physical separation between the two peoples," Barak said, adding that "from Israel's point of view, a Palestinian-Jordanian confederation is preferable. A Palestinian state is not an Israeli goal.

"But if a Palestinian state emerges from the permanent accord, we will ensure security and political constraints that...

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