Why Barak Misread the Palestinian Reaction to Clinton Proposals

According to debkafile‘s political and intelligence sources, Prime Minister Barak was led astray in his reading of Yasser Arafat’s response to President Clinton’s peace proposals by an incomplete piece of intelligence: Arafat had secretly set up a panel to prepare Palestinian option for acceptance of a treaty ending the conflict with Israel. That action Barak took to signify that the Palestinian leader intended signing the framework document in Washington next week. That piece of information was not complete; it did not cover Arafat’s great difficulties in staffing the panel and the desertion of his closest aides who refused to serve. That incomplete information Barak passed on to President Clinton, raising in both misplaced optimism about Arafat’s intentions. However, early Wednesday, Dec. 12, just hours before the Israeli cabinet meeting to determine Israel’s response to the Clinton proposals, the prime minister heard of a stormy session of the Palestinian leadership the night before, in which most of the participants were ranged against Arafat signing any framework accord. They were particularly angry over Arafat’s failure to stand by his earlier insistence on the deployment of an international observer force to protect the Palestinians against the Israeli army, an element omitted from the Clinton document. They demanded of Arafat that he refrain from assenting to the Clinton proposals and continue the Intifada. Even after that episode, Barak held to his conviction that the Palestinian leader would make it to Washington. Some of his staffers and those of acting foreign minister Shlomo Ben Ami were still unconvinced after Arafat’s negative response was submitted to Washington. They declared he was playing one of his tricks and his attendance at Thursday’s summit at Sharm el-Sheikh Thursday with Egyptian president Mubarak and Barak would be a sign that he meant to accept the Clinton document.
debkafile was one of the few media to report for weeks in advance of the fact that Arafat would never sign a peace treaty framework containing a clause providing for the termination of the Palestinian-Israel conflict.
Israel’s Army Intelligence Chief Gets It Wrong, Twice
Maj.- Gen. Amos Malka, Head of the Israeli Army’s Intelligence Division, declared with certainty this week that the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat aspired at a peace treaty with Israel, after appreciating it had reached the limit of its concessions. The Palestinian leader, he added, understood that the Clinton peace proposals were the best he could get and no other US president was likely to improve on them. He could therefore be counted on to sign the document in Washington next week, alongside Ehud Barak.
That evaluation stood up no more than 12 hours – like the prime minister Ehud Barak’s confident judgment that Arafat was bound to sign the Clinton document of principles.
All intelligence “evaluations” or ‘forecasts” are prone by definition to a margin of error. But Maj.-Gen. Malka’s misjudgment was particularly glaring, because Israeli intelligence had all the tools for correctly gauging Arafat’s personal, religious, national, financial and operational motivations; but did not use them. The only explanation for his error is the reversion by Israeli intelligence to its old syndrome of falling into the trap of its preconceptions. The prime minister and defense minister plainly expected Arafat to bow to President Clinton’s will; US intelligence passed on to its Israeli colleagues its conclusion that the Palestinian leader was willing to put his signature to the Clinton proposals; Maj.-Gen. Malka looked no further and lined up with the prevalent view. One of his predecessors, Maj.-Gen. (Ret.) Uri Sagi, fell into a similar trap; he was convinced in defiance of the evidence that the late Syrian president.

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