Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

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22 Av 5759 - August 4, 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Barak's Game Plan

by Arye Zisman

Accelerated political negotiations are ruining the daily routine for new Prime Minister Ehud Barak. No more working into the wee hours of the morning -- it's normal work hours for him now.

At an almost insane pace, Barak has begun making his political contacts. He's done nothing since forming his government, but rounds of political talks. Within one week he managed to meet with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat, Jordanian King Abdallah, Turkish President Soliman Demiral -- and then he was off to the U.S. for a meeting with President Clinton.

The following week, the pace didn't slow down, with meetings with British Prime Minister Tony Blair and the Prime Minister of Spain. Why the rush? What's the hurry, Barak?

The answer to this question can be found in Barak's political strategy, which he's had all worked out since before the elections. It's the one hundred day plan, otherwise known as the "By the Holidays Plan." According to this scenario, Barak has until Rosh Hashanah for Israeli negotiating teams to sit opposite both Palestinian and Syrian negotiating teams -- to try for, to work out, to consolidate future peace agreements, running both channels at the same time, taking a parallel and simultaneous approach.

Phase One

Barak's game plan is multi-phased. Phase One has already gone into action. This is the preliminary phase, in which Barak uses the rounds of discussion to present the difficulties -- the issues that are most pressing.

In Phase One, Barak does not attempt to offer solutions. Barak's position is, let's make a rough sketch of the problem so that we can lay it on the table. "We will agree with our opponents to agree on the things we disagree on," Barak said, characteristically. He's known for short, complicated statements -- Netanyahu would have phrased it much more simply.

Interestingly, the Netanyahu spirit still hovers over the political negotiations. In every single one of Barak's encounters, mention was made of Netanyahu. All sides were eager to make it clear that things had changed; that negotiations would be conducted differently in the future. It's important to remember that it was exactly this atmosphere, this sense of new hope, that was felt in Netanyahu's first round of talks.

In spite of this, Barak plans to build his image on Netanyahu's political ruins and on the political freeze that characterized the Netanyahu era. In a sense, Barak can do no wrong. Any step he takes will be interpreted as trust building, as more positive than his predecessor. One way or another, Barak has Netanyahu to thank, for paving the way to Barak's initial negotiating success.

Phase Two

Phase Two of the Barak game plan is where Barak switches to the Syrian channel. Barak will attempt to find the formula that everybody will accept -- the springboard from which negotiations can be resumed. Syria has constantly demanded the resumption of talks "at the point where they were stopped." There is some controversy, however, as to where this point is. Barak's idea is to try to resume talks based on reaching an immediate understanding that relates to easing the Lebanon situation.

The mapping-out phase, where Barak outlines what he sees as the most pressing political problems, is continued following Barak's return from the United States. Secretary of State Albright is the one designated to move the process along, after the Americans have heard where Barak's red lines are drawn: which issues are nonnegotiable.

Phase Three

The next phase of the Barak plan might be called the "Evaluation Phase." In this phase, Barak is expected to summarize the issues discussed with all the regional leaders. After this, he is to convene the various political and security forums, at which time a general evaluation will be made, and conclusions drawn as to the next step -- the continuation of the process.

Barak has announced that these meetings will be staffed by political, military and legal personnel. Unlike Netanyahu, Barak is interested in bringing the military element back into political negotiations, so that we may soon be seeing men in uniform taking center stage at the negotiating tables. Barak intends to place responsibility for consolidating alternative solutions on members of his political staff, with special emphasis placed on those problems that are preventing either side from reaching agreement regarding a permanent settlement. Barak also intends to reach an early agreement at the outset of negotiations regarding the question of personnel: Who is to staff the teams conducting negotiations for a permanent settlement.

Fundamental to Prime Minister Barak's approach, is a policy of not offering specific Israeli solutions, a position that may encourage the opposing side to come up with their own suggestions. Through negotiations, Barak aims to work toward and consolidate solutions that will be satisfactory to both sides. "We offer solutions and we keep moving," is Barak's favorite phrase. Next in line for the Barak strategy is Wye: Summarizing the Wye Agreement, deciding how to put it into effect and how negotiations are to be conducted regarding a permanent settlement. At the same time, similar decisions will be made as to the method of negotiation with Syria.

It's only after this phase has been completed that Barak plans to go into action on Phase Four: Trust-building.

Within the framework of the trust-building steps, the Wye Agreement is to be put into effect. Simultaneously, discussion will begin regarding a permanent settlement. Parallel to this process, and following a declaration of mutual intent on the parts of Israel and Syria regarding their readiness to resume negotiation, discussions with the Syrians will be resumed with American assistance. Secretary of State Albright plans to dedicate most of her time in the region on renewing Israeli/Syrian talks. With Syria, too, Barak intends to build up a relationship of trust, comparable to the trust-building steps that he intends to take in approaching the Palestinians. To build Syrian trust, Barak will request that the U.S. grant Syria an immediate financial/political aid package, before negotiations have even begun.

Central to Barak's political game plan is the need to conduct accelerated negotiations as soon as possible. Barak knows that the broad coalition that forms his government is both fragile and explosive. Cracks were already showing in the wake of a crisis with the Russian Yisrael Be'Aliyah party and in various actions of the Leftist ministers.

Barak's thesis is, don't postpone anything important. He correctly assumes that as negotiations progress, NRP pressure will increase. So Barak is in a hurry. He needs results now. He knows that he has to take advantage of the momentum generated by his great and unwieldy coalition before it begins to disintegrate. What they're saying around Barak is, "whatever he doesn't do the first year, he won't do at all."

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