By Salaam Abdul Khaliq
"If I were born a Palestinian, I would be a terrorist", Ehud Barak once remarked to the Israeli media. Barak only meant to undermine former Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's heavy-handed treatment of the Palestinians months before the Israeli general election and by no means meant to give credence to Palestinian suffering under the yoke of occupation. As out of character as this remark was it was no impediment for Barak's campaign, and in the final tally, he won the election by a landslide.
The unprecedented reaction to Barak from the Israeli public marks a sharp shift in political attitudes and indicates a desire for reconciliation with the dispossessed people of Palestine. It's as if Barak's victory was a subtle acknowledgment of the suffering inflicted on the Palestinians through fifty years of silent ethnic cleansing and expropriation. It is an indicator of a momentous moral awakening and a genuine appetite for peace -- Israeli style.
Up close and personal, Ehud Barak is no ordinary Israeli politician. Aside from his military career, highlighted by the invasion of Lebanon in 1982 while he was a Major General, and the fact that he prided himself in the past for killing many Arabs single-handedly, Barak is not a man you can easily call a war criminal.
Twenty-four hours after putting on the mantle of Prime Minister, Barak, like his mentor and fellow "soldier turned peace maker" Yitzak Rabin, started blowing the trumpets of peace. But who doesn't like peace? Don't Arafat and his Palestinian Authority? Don't Syria and the Arab world? Of course they do.
Seizing the moment, Barak hopped a plane and visited Cairo, Washington and London, making good on his peace initiative. But what failed to make headlines was that while in Washington atoning for the sins of Netanyahu and promising to implement the Oslo and Wye peace accords, Barak called upon Lockheed Martin for 50 F-16s jet fighters, at the expense of none other than hard-earned U.S. taxpayer dollars. Barak's take on peace is indeed genuine, Israeli style. True to his countrymen's custom. Whenever an olive branch is extended to the Palestinians, it is tied to the barrel of gun. That's peace, Israeli style.
To make matters worse (or better, depending on which side of the fence you are on), Barak said in a press conference at the White House that the issue of Palestinian refugees should fall upon the Arab countries where these refugees already live. Talk about an easy solution to a very complex problem.
Once back home, he started backtracking on the implementation of the Wye River memorandum, which calls for three Israeli land transfers in the West Bank to Palestinian control, by telling Arafat that he wants to modify the time frame and terms of the accord.
At the funeral of the late "Commander of the Faithful" King Hassan II of Morocco - another dead Arab despot with a solid romance with Israel on his resume - Barak was the goose with the golden egg. Almost every Arab leader wanted to shake hands with him. Syria's Hafez Asad, who did not attend the funeral, must have felt bad for missing the party and all the palm pressing.
Asad, the hawkish Arab leader and defender of Arab pride (if there is still such a thing), has stated that his country is ready to ride the peace train. Well, at least the Syrian press has said so. And When the Arab press starts talking in glowing terms about an Israeli leader, you know that peace is nearby.
Even Algeria's new president Abdul Aziz Bouteflika joined the tribe of Barak's well-wishers. He had tea with the Israeli leader and is reported to have spoken in halting English no less. Imagine Bouteflika saying, "We are uh, willing, uh, to help in, uh, any way, uh, we can." There goes the neighborhood.
Basically, Barak's visit to Washington had one single purpose, which was to deliver Israel's war cry: Keep your wallets open and your mouths shut and let Israel handle the Palestinian problem.
Time will tell whether Ehud Barak is just the other side of the Netanyahu coin. The only difference may be that Barak has a warmer smile and a more genteel face. His message, like that of all previous Israeli leaders, seems however to be the same: Be warned, if you don't agree to make peace, Israeli style, be prepared to suffer.