NEWS

AVRAHAM BURG

As an official in the Israeli special forces, Avraham Burg was a leading conscientious objector during the war on Lebanon. From 1999 until recently he was speaker of the Knesset (Israeli Parliament) during one of the stormiest periods in Israel’s political history. A few days ago, he took part, together with former Israeli minister Yossi Beilin and the former Palestinian minister Yasser Abed Rabo, in the Geneva initiative. What effect did the Geneva initiative have on public opinion in Israel and on the Labor party? The reaction we got was unexpectedly large and unexpectedly immediate. We presented specific proposals on very painful issues, such as the fate of Jerusalem, the issue of refugees, the borders of the two states, religious monuments and the settlements. The first polls showed that 45 percent of Israelis accept our proposals. At a time when 60 percent support Sharon and the «removal» of Arafat? Yes, it’s contradictory, but can be explained. They support Sharon because he promised them security, because they hate Arafat and the suicide attacks. But they are ready to support any peacemaking proposal, if they see that it exists, it is credible, and that there is a response from the other side. We in the Labor party are in an introspective phase. There are many tendencies, many views. We’ll discuss the matter this weekend in the political committee. We’ll try not to go into detail, but to adopt the basic principles of Geneva. Which are? First, that the Palestinian state will be created basically as defined by the Green Line of 1967 (Ed. the entire occupied territory), with some small exchanges of land between Israelis and Palestinians on the basis of equity and consensus. Second, that the two sides rule out using violence in any form to exert political pressure. And third, that the agreement with the Palestinians is accompanied by a more general agreement of mutual recognition, peace and cooperation with all the neighboring Arab states. How do you see Sharon’s policy on Arafat? Yasser Arafat has lost the trust of pro-peace forces in Israel. On the other hand, I cannot see who else might win that trust if they took his place tomorrow. In any case, Sharon has no right to tell the Palestinians who their leader should be. Arafat is a symbol of the Palestinian nation; he is the «father» of that nation and we cannot ignore that. The idea of a «protective wall» in the West Bank started with the Israeli Left and was implemented by the Right. What is your personal view? It is true that the majority of my party is in favor of the wall. Personally, I was absolutely against it from the start, although at that time I was the sole voice. I’ll fight that issue as well. After its heavy electoral defeat, the Labor party seems to be in disarray, and there is talk of a new left-wing party being formed. How do you see these developments? You are right to speak of disarray, although that is putting it mildly. But at the moment, we are just in the first months of Sharon’s four-year term. For the first time, we are in a phase of deep discussion and strategic regrouping. As for the possibility of a new party, ask me again six months before the next elections. It’s too soon now. Oslo, Camp David, road map: A chain of painful disappointments. What is to blame? The road map was a promise, but the cowboy who had it got lost in the Texas desert. The problems started in Oslo. There is a joke that the difference between the German and the Israeli lawyer is that the German negotiates for five years, point by point, and when he makes an agreement, immediately takes action to implement it. The Israeli closes the deal immediately, and spends the next five years renegotiating everything he’s agreed on. Something like that happened with Oslo. We made an agreement without having clarified what the final outcome would be and without either side having really understood the other side’s concerns. I am convinced that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not just about the real problems of land, settlements, refugees and so on. We are two peoples burdened with terrible memories and powerful symbols. Every suicide attack arouses the specters of the pogroms and the Holocaust in Israel. Every Israeli attack arouses the specters of colonization, and humiliation by the powerful among the Palestinians. So we need not just a horizontal road map, but a vertical one, which will touch people’s hearts and re-establish shattered trust.