WASHINGTON, July 19 (JTA) Exactly a year ago, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak was sitting at a table at Camp David across from Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat, a man he considered his partner for peace.
Today, Barak has been ousted from office, and Israel and the Palestinians suffer daily violence and bloodshed.
Barak now sees Arafat not as a peace partner but as a man leading his people toward war.
In his first American address since losing the premiership in elections last February, Barak on Thursday called on the United States and the international community to treat Arafat as they do other “thugs and rogue leaders.”
“Somehow, Arafat, no one can impose upon him a different behavior, but he should not be able to get away with it,” Barak said at a forum of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
Barak said Arafat should not be welcome in international circles, and heads of state who meet with him should be ostracized by the United Nations.
“I believe he should be dealt with according to his behavior,” Barak said. “And in the long term, with these rogue leaders and terror leaders, this is the only way to operate.”
Barak compared Arafat to Slobodan Milosevic, the former Yugoslav president now facing war crimes charges in The Hague, and Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
The former Labor Party leader showed much contempt for Arafat, accusing him of not taking the political risks necessary to make peace risks Barak took, leading to his political defeat.
Barak said he realized that Arafat is not ready to be the Palestinian version of Anwar Sadat, the Egyptian president who signed the Arab world’s first peace treaty with Israel in 1979.
In the last two weeks, some media accounts have painted a different picture of the situation at Camp David saying that Israel’s failure to implement its previous commitments made Arafat skeptical of the negotiating terms presented at the presidential retreat.
“The summit occurred at a low point in Mr. Arafat’s relationship with Mr. Barak the man with whom he was supposed to strike a historic deal,” Robert Malley, President Clinton’s special assistant for Arab-Israeli affairs, wrote in a recent Op-Ed in the New York Times. “Mr. Arafat believed that Mr. Barak was simply trying to skirt his obligations.”
Barak rejected the notion that he did not do enough, saying that Arafat “seems to lie when it serves him.” He said the Israeli and American governments last year did not try to dictate terms to Arafat, but merely laid out a basic framework for negotiations. Yet Arafat was unwilling to counter with a proposal of his own.
Asked if he had made mistakes during the peace process, Barak said he was sure he had made technical mistakes, but they were “too few to mention.”
Barak expressed support for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s use of force against the Palestinians as a short term response to the problem. Longer term, Barak endorsed the idea of separating from the Palestinians by moving Israeli settlers out of isolated communities in the West Bank and Gaza Strip into the larger settlement blocs or Israel proper.
He said the policy might prompt the Palestinian Authority to resume negotiations, and also would draw support and understanding from the international community.