In a Ruined Country

How Yasir Arafat destroyed Palestine

The Atlantic Monthly
September 2005

by David Samuels

[The following are excerpts from the article]

..The war for Jerusalem that began after Israeli Prime Minister Ehud .

Barak's failed peace offer at Camp David in the summer of 2000 has
become the subject of legends and fables, each one of which is colored
in the distinctive shades of the political spectrum from which it
emerged: Yasir Arafat tried to control the violence. Arafat was
behind the violence. Arafat was the target of the violence, which
he deflected onto the Israelis. Depending on which day of the week
it was, any combination of these statements might have been true...

..There is a school of opinion that blames Arafat's personal hatred
of .

Barak for the intifada. When I try it out on Barak, he dismisses
the idea as irrational; yet as we talk, it is not hard to see why
so many people find him disconcerting. Barak has two distinct and
contradictory personalities. He combines the hyperactive, engaging
manner of the smartest ten-year-old boy on the planet with a cold,
analytical way of describing events that suggests the personality of
the computer HAL in Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. Oslo,
Barak believes, was a political adventure embarked on by Rabin,
who distrusted Arafat but saw a strategic need to reach a political
settlement with the Palestinians.

"What we had in mind all the time was that if you keep moving
toward a volcanic eruption of violence, as a result of being unable
to stretch reigning over the Palestinians for another generation,
we might end up with a tragedy," Barak says, tugging at the collar
of his navy windbreaker. He recalls a meeting at the beginning of
the first intifada, chaired by Rabin, in which the Israeli defense
establishment confronted the nature of the rebellion and the range
of available solutions.

"We had a closed gathering of probably thirty people~Wthe top
brass of the defense ministry~Wwith Rabin, and he brought several
academics to talk about what they believed they were seeing," Barak
remembers. "The first intifada was then two weeks old. And there was
a brilliant presentation made by Professor Shamir, and he talked
about the fifty precedents in the last century of such events. He
said that throughout history only three strategies came close to
being successful. None is relevant to our case. The strategies were
extermination, starvation, and mass transportation. We were targets
of extermination and the Armenians also, but it didn't work. Biafra
was starvation, didn't work. And he analyzed what would happen~Wit's
a brilliant short presentation."

As chief of the IDF general staff, and later as a minister in Rabin's
cabinet, Barak talked to the prime minister about the problems with
the Oslo Accords very often, he says. "Many times I would ask Rabin,
Why did you give up on this or that? and he would say, 'You know, Ehud,
we still have wide enough margins. The moment will inevitably come when
we'll have to pass our judgment.' Even at the time, we read Arafat's
speeches to other audiences, in Johannesburg and other places, where
he would say, 'Remember the false Hudna,'" Barak says, referring to a
deceptive treaty entered into by the prophet Muhammad. By the time he
became prime minister, Barak says, he found that a violent explosion
was imminent and the strategic situation was not in Israel's favor.

"I felt in all my mature life that Israel from 1947 on could never
materialize any operational or military achievement unless we had
two preconditions fulfilled," he explains. "One, that we occupied the
moral high ground in the world, the other that we kept our internal
unity. It was the case in 1947 exactly because Ben-Gurion was ready
to take an almost impossible international plan and agree to it, and
the Palestinians rejected it. Only the fact that Ben-Gurion accepted
it made it possible for Israel to hold to the results of the war for
fifty-seven years."