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WILL BARAK PLAY HIS LAST CHIP WISELY?

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak is down to his last chip. All his other bargaining chips were given away last month at Camp David in a fit of shocking pre-emptive concessions.

Even his allies on the left were shocked. Leah Rabin, Yitzhak Rabin's widow, charged that "Yitzhak is certainly turning in his grave. . . . Yitzhak would never have agreed to compromise on the Old City and the Temple Mount."

Novelist Amos Oz, another leading dove, expressed surprise that Yasser Arafat would leave Camp David disdaining everything Barak had offered him.

Surprised? Surprised that Arafat sat and pocketed every one of Barak's concessions, without making any in return? Sat and allowed Barak to destroy one of the greatest assets any country has: the notion that there are red lines it will not cross and that therefore the other party must make some movement toward accommodation?

Arafat could not believe his good fortune. Here was the prime minister of Israel refuting for all time the Jews' reputation for shrewd bargaining. Barak moved the goalposts 90 yards down the field toward him on every single issue -- without waiting to receive an inch of movement from his adversary.

Oh, Arafat did offer this: After he had been given the Old City of Jerusalem, for Jews the most sacred place on Earth, he would permit them to worship at their holy sites.

The arrogance of this suggestion is breathtaking, but given Barak's abjectness, hardly surprising. Having fought and won five wars, having buried and mourned three generations of young soldiers, the Jews had regained the right to their own holy places. Now, Arafat would magnanimously allow the Jews to revisit them, as they did in their 2,000 years of exile, at his sufferance.

What did Barak give away at Camp David?

He surrendered the Jordan Valley, a strip of barrenness that buffers Israel from the Arab tank armies to the east. Barak's own Labor Party insisted for 30 years that it could not be ceded without fatally compromising Israel's security. He gave Arafat control over much of the Old City, flagrantly violating his campaign promise never to redivide Jerusalem. And he conceded the principle that Israel should receive and resettle Palestinians who left their homes 52 years ago in a war started by the Arabs for the express purpose of destroying the newborn state of Israel.

Having given away the Jordan Valley, the entire West Bank, a united Jerusalem, and having conceded the so-called "right of return," Barak left Camp David with nothing. What chip is left? Israeli recognition of a Palestinian state.

Arafat wants a Palestinian state. But the Oslo agreement says he must negotiate its terms with Israel. After Camp David, Arafat traveled the world to get support for a unilateral declaration of independence.

Don't do it without Israel's consent, said the Russians, the Europeans, some of the Arabs and most importantly, the United States. That is why Arafat postponed his declaration of independence, scheduled for Sept. 13. He needs Israel's agreement before the world will give him recognition and aid.

This then is Barak's last card. What to do with it? Withhold it until he gets two things from Arafat: recognition of the Jewish claim to Jerusalem, and a final end to all subsequent Palestinian claims against Israel. It sounds obvious. But Barak and his advisers are actually contemplating the opposite: concluding a partial deal. In other words, giving Arafat everything Barak has already offered him, plus recognizing his state -- and leaving Jerusalem (and perhaps other issues) to be resolved sometime in the future.

Leaving it unresolved means that the new and now-armed Palestinian state will have a permanent grievance to press against Israel. It means that the conflict festers. It means a new generation of Palestinian children will be raised on the call for "jihad to liberate Jerusalem" from the Jews.

A partial deal means that Barak would have given away absolutely everything in return for nothing. No closure, no real peace, nothing but more conflict. And no recognized claim to Jerusalem, the very soul of the Jewish people for 3,000 years. It would be the most egregious act of negotiated surrender since Munich. And it may yet happen.

Washington Post Writers Group

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