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Beyond Israel’s new leader, PLO’s Arafat to stake claims in pea

NEW YORK (BP)–The Mideast peace process may be enlivened in the months ahead — and not just by the May 17 landslide election of a new Israeli prime minister, Ehud Barak, who is more open to talks than the rejected incumbent Benjamin Netanyahu.
But also by “a new strategy” by Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasir Arafat, as reported by A.M. Rosenthal in The New York Times May 14.
Rosenthal, former executive editor of The Times and now a columnist for the newspaper, noted Arafat has been sending a “renewed message to Palestinians.”
The message, Rosenthal wrote, is “that their goal remains to push Israel back at least to the land the Jews held before Israel became a state.”
“Israel would be amputated to indefensibility with the loss of at least three cities, militarily critical roads, water supplies, chunks of the Galilee and the Negev desert the Jews so enriched, and without legal control of any part of Jerusalem,” Rosenthal wrote. The thrust reflects a long-held goal to “reduce Israel to impotence by a succession of interlocked diplomatic and military stages so that one day the final settlement could be Israel’s defeat or desiccation of its national will,” Rosenthal wrote.
Rosenthal wrote Arafat’s new initiative was not discussed during the Israeli campaign by Barak, Natanyahu or the Israeli and American press.
Barak probably did not address it “because he did not want to remind Israelis that Labor [Barak’s political party] had promised that a recognized Palestine would abandon any more claims to Israeli land,” Rosenthal wrote.
Netanyahu, leader of the conservative Likud Party, probably did not address it “because his campaign was fouled up by focus on political personalities, where he is not a dream boy, instead of the survival issues where he is strong in public acceptance,” Rosenthal wrote. One of Netanyahu’s closest allies, Aryeh Deri, leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas Party, recently was convicted on corruption charges, while two of Netanyahu’s cabinet members and his former chief of staff are under criminal investigation.
“Almost all the Israeli and American press matched [the two candidates] in aloofness” from Arafat’s new thrust, Rosenthal wrote, noting that his documentation was gathered “mostly by phone and fax — from furious Israeli insiders, and monitoring organizations like the Middle East Media and Research Institute, which is hugely valuable for translations of Arab-language material (www.memri.org).”
Arafat aims to push toward the 1947 U.N. partition resolution No. 181, which Arabs rejected at the time, Rosenthal wrote, noting, now, such a narrowed division of the land “would suffocate Israel’s security viability.”
Rosenthal added Arafat, to this point, has gained ground through the European Union’s adoption of a formal statement that no part of Jerusalem is under Israeli control and a U.N. Human Rights Commission declaration that all Israeli-Palestinian negotiations must be based on the 1947 U.N. resolution.
On the Israeli side, the newly elected prime minister, Ehud Barak, promised during his campaign to resume the peace process, but he also promised to insist:
— Jerusalem remain the undivided capital of Israel.
— a national referendum be held on any overall peace agreement that would create a Palestinian state in Gaza and parts of the West Bank.
— Israel not return to the narrow borders it had before the 1967 war.
— most Jewish settlements remain under Israeli control.
Barak’s May 17 landslide election — a 56 percent tally over Netanyahu’s 44 percent — was helped, incidentally, by the on-site work of James Carville, the campaign strategist for Bill Clinton and Clinton’s most dogged defender during his impeachment. Carville, and at least two other aides from Clinton’s’92 election victory, worked in Israel infusing Barak’s campaign with such mottos as, “It’s the economy, stupid.”
Barak was the Clinton administration’s favorite to win the Israeli’s election, according to numerous news reports.
Barak, 57, is Israel’s most decorated living soldier and a renowned commando leader who retired from his 36-year military career four years ago, having risen to the posts of chief of intelligence and then chief of staff. Under the late prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was assassinated by a Jewish extremist in 1995, Barak then served as interior minister and under former prime minister Shimon Peres, who was defeated by Netanyahu in 1996 by a single percentage point, Barak served as foreign minister. Counting both positions, however, he garnered only a year’s formal experience in government, according to USA Today. He holds a master’s degree in systems analysis from Stanford University in California.
Among Barak’s military exploits, he led the commandos who rescued Israeli hostages in Entebbe, Uganda, in 1976, when Netanyahu was one of the men under his command, and he was disguised as a woman in a commando squad who assassinated three PLO leaders in Beirut, Lebanon, in 1973 in revenge for the murder of 11 Israeli athletes during the 1972 Olympics in Munich.
A native-born Israeli who was raised on a kibbutz, Barak and his wife, Nava, have been married 30 years and have three daughters.
Apart from Barak’s victory, according to an analysis in The New York Times, the May 17 elections left the nation’s ultra-Orthodox with less power in the nation’s parliament, and Barak should be able to form a government from a large bloc of secular parties without having to offer any representation to the ultra-Orthodox.
Israel celebrated the 50th anniversary of its founding last year and the 100th anniversary of Zionism in 1997.