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.
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
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 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.
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
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