The Truth Regarding the 2000 Camp David Summit
By Gary D. Keenan
From 11-25 July 2000, the late Palestinian leader President Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak conducted what proved to be unsuccessful peace negotiations at Camp David, Maryland, under the stewardship of U.S. President Clinton.
To this day, Arafat is accused by Israel, its lobby, President Clinton and the mainstream media of causing the break down of the talks through his rejection of Barak's "generous" offer of peace and failure to make counter offers.
A Los Angeles Times editorial declared that the talks fell apart due to "Arafat's recalcitrance" (9 April 2002) and a Chicago Sun-Times editorial stated that Israel "offered peace terms more generous than ever before and Arafat did not event make a counter offer." (10 November 2000) According to staunch pro-Israel columnist Charles Krauthammer, "at Camp David, Ehud Barak offered the Palestinians an astonishingly generous peace with dignity and statehood. Arafat not only turned it down, he refused to make a counter offer!" ( Seattle Times , 16 September 2000.) 1
Barak, however, continues to be praised for doing his utmost to achieve peace at Camp David. Time magazine described Barak's proposal as "an unprecedented concession" to the Palestinians (25 December 2000) and according to Michael Kelly of the Washington Post , it "offered extraordinary concessions." (13 March 2001) A Chicago Tribune editorial described Barak's proposals as "the most far-reaching offer ever" (June 6, 2001) and a Los Angeles Times editorial declared them to be "generous peace terms." (15 March 2002)
As the record clearly demonstrates, however, Arafat was not to blame for the collapse of the Camp David summit. Furthermore, in no way can Barak's offer be described as "generous." Arafat could only reject it. Also, contrary to the reports of Krauthammer and other commentators, Arafat and his team did put their own proposals on the table.
The media has also neglected to mention the failings and overriding pro-Israel bias of President Clinton as well as the fact that his Special Middle East Coordinator, Dennis Ross, repeatedly intervened during negotiations on Israel's behalf. (Hardly surprising, given the fact that prior to joining the Clinton administration, Ross was an executive with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a pro-Israel "think tank." He is currently its director and also chairman of the recently established Policy Planning Institute for the Jewish People which is headquartered in Jerusalem.)
Nor has the media reported that by blaming him, President Clinton broke a solemn promise to Arafat prior to the summit not to do so.
Robert Malley, Special Assistant to President Clinton for Arab-Israeli Affairs, took part in the Camp David negotiations. He and Hussein Agha, a long time activist in Israeli-Palestinian relations, wrote an account of what actually took place that explains why negotiations failed. It was published in the 9 August 2001 issue of The New York Review of Books.
In the first three paragraphs Malley and Agha absolve Arafat of responsibility for the Camp David summit's unsuccessful outcome and the failure of subsequent talks:
"In accounts of what happened at the July 2000 Camp David summit and the following months of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, we often hear about Ehud Barak's unprecedented offer and Yasser Arafat's uncompromising no. Israel is said to have made an historic, generous proposal, which the Palestinians, once again seizing the opportunity to miss an opportunity, turned down. In short the failure to reach a final agreement is attributed, without notable dissent, to Yasser Arafat."
"As orthodoxies go, this is a dangerous one. For it has larger ripple effects. Broader conclusions take hold. That there is no peace partner is one. That there is no possible end to the conflict with Arafat is another."
"For a process of such complexity, the diagnosis is remarkably shallow. It ignores history, the dynamics of the negotiations, and the relationships among the three parties. In so doing, it fails to capture why what so many viewed as a generous Israeli offer, the Palestinians viewed as neither generous, nor Israeli, nor, indeed as an offer. Worse, it acts as a harmful constraint on American policy by offering up a single, convenient culprit – Arafat – rather than a more nuanced and realistic analysis." ("Camp David: The Tragedy of Errors," by Robert Malley and Hussein Agha, The New York Review of Books , 9 August 2001)
Even before the summit began Arafat expressed serious concern that it might fail as not enough time had been devoted to preparation. Nevertheless, he agreed to attend following President Clinton's assurance that he would not be blamed if negotiations collapsed. According to Palestinian negotiator Abu Ala'a (Ahmed Qurei), as quoted by New York Times columnist Deborah Sontag, "[w]e told [Barak that] without preparation it would be a catastrophe, and now we are living the catastrophe. Two weeks before Camp David, Arafat and I saw Clinton at the White House. Arafat told Clinton he needed more time. Clinton said, 'Chairman Arafat, come try your best. If it fails, I will not blame you.' But that is exactly what he did." ("Quest for Mideast Peace: How and Why It Failed," Deborah Sontag, New York Times , 26 July 2001)
Robert Malley and Hussein Agha concur with Ahmed Qurei: "....Clinton assured Arafat on the eve of the summit that he would not be blamed if the summit did not succeed. 'There will be,' he pledged, 'no finger-pointing'." (Robert Malley and Hussein Agha)
Arafat understood only too well that he would be pressured at Camp David to sign an unacceptable deal.
"Camp David seemed to Arafat to encapsulate his worst nightmares. It was high-wire summitry, designed to increase the pressure on the Palestinians to reach a quick agreement while heightening the political and symbolic costs if they did not. And it clearly was a Clinton/Barak idea both in concept and timing, and for that reason alone highly suspect. That the US issued the invitations despite Israel's refusal to carry out its earlier commitments and despite Arafat's plea for additional time to prepare only reinforced in his mind the sense of a US-Israel conspiracy...."
"In the end, Arafat went to Camp David, for not to do so would have been to incur America's anger; but he went intent more on surviving than on benefiting from it." (Robert Malley and Hussein Agha)
As the Palestinian delegation saw it, Barak and Clinton were primarily concerned about their own reputations and oblivious to the forces Arafat was facing at home and elsewhere in the Arab/Muslim world.
"[T]he Palestinians felt that they were being dragged to the verdant hills of Maryland to be put under joint pressure by an Israeli prime minister and an American president who, because of their separate political time tables and concerns about their legacies, had a personal sense of urgency."
"[T]hey had been repeatedly told by the Americans that the Israeli leader's coalition was unstable; after a while, they said, the goal of the summit meeting seemed to be as much about rescuing Mr. Barak as about making peace. At the same time, they said, the Americans did not seem to take seriously the pressures of the Palestinian public and the Muslim world on Mr. Arafat. Like Mr. Barak, Mr. Arafat went to Camp David dogged by plummeting domestic approval ratings." (Deborah Sontag)
Lack of progress towards the establishment of a Palestinian state since the 1993 Oslo accords were signed, together with a dramatic increase in the number of Jewish settlements in occupied Palestinian lands had taken its toll on Arafat's prestige. Also, although he was never personally tainted with scandal (indeed, his lifestyle was austere to the extreme), some members of the Palestinian Authority (PA) were taking advantage of their positions for personal gain. (For a scathing indictment of corruption within the PA see David Hirst's article "Shameless in Gaza" published in the Guardian Weekly , 27 April 1997.)
Palestinians had good reason to be greatly disappointed in the Oslo accords and sceptical regarding the peace process in general.
"The Palestinians, however, while they began the process of building a state, lost faith as land transfers were routinely delayed [by Israel] and as they watched the West Bank and Gaza sliced up by Israeli bypass roads and expansion of Jewish settlements. The settler population increased by 80,000 between 1992 and 2001. The expected economic dividends of the peace path did not materialize; the Palestinian standard of living dropped by 20 percent.... And Mr. Arafat kept setting and postponing dates for declaring Palestinian independence...."
"This created a growing disaffection with the peace effort that was largely ignored by the Israeli and American negotiators. The Palestinian opposition - the Islamic militants who considered the negotiations to be a sell out and others frustrated by the corruption of the Palestinian leadership gained adherents who were more than ready to return to the streets when the peace effort broke down [on 29 September 2000.]" (Deborah Sontag)
Prior to the Camp David summit Arafat and his associates indicated that in order to achieve a peace agreement they were prepared to allow Israel to annex some of the West Bank settlements in exchange for an equal amount of land within Israel. They also revealed their willingness to negotiate a division of East Jerusalem (the Old City) and to work with Israel to find a mutually equitable solution to the refugee problem - one that took full account of Israel's demographic concerns - based on Resolution 194, accepted in 1949 (along with Resolution 181, the 1947 Partition Plan), by Israel before the General Assembly and at the Lausanne Peace Conference as a precondition for U.N admittance.
"Even during the period following the Oslo agreement, the Palestinians considered that they were the ones who had come up with creative ideas to address Israeli concerns. While denouncing Israeli settlements as illegal, they accepted the principle that Israel would annex some of the West Bank settlements in exchange for an equitable amount of Israeli land being transferred to the Palestinians. While insisting on the Palestinian refugees' right to return to homes lost in 1948, they were prepared to tie this right to a mechanism of implementation providing alternative choices for the refugees while limiting the numbers returning to Israel proper. Despite their insistence on Israel's withdrawal from all lands occupied in 1967, they were open to a division of East Jerusalem granting Israel sovereignty over its Jewish areas (the Jewish Quarter, the Wailing Wall, and the Jewish neighbourhoods) in clear contravention of this principle." (Robert Malley and Hussein Agha)
Arafat had always believed that the only way negotiations could succeed was step-by-step, i.e., each interim agreement had to be implemented before moving on to the next stage. Hence, "he requested that the third Israeli territorial withdrawal [from Zone C (under exclusive Israeli occupation) as called for in the 1995 Oslo II (Taba) agreement] be implemented before Camp David – a demand that, when rebuffed by the US, turned into a request that the US 'guarantee' the withdrawal even if Camp David did not yield an agreement (what he called a 'safety net'.)" (Robert Malley and Hussein Agha)
In contrast, Barak's approach to negotiations before and during Camp David was "all-or-nothing." In his mind, "Arafat had to be made to understand that there was no 'third way,' no 'reversion to the interim approach,' but rather a corridor leading either to an agreement or to confrontation. Seeking to enlist the support of the US and European nations for this plan [prior to Camp David], he asked them to threaten Arafat with consequences of his obstinacy: the blame would be laid on the Palestinians and relations with them would be downgraded. Likewise, and throughout Camp David, Barak repeatedly urged the US to avoid mention of any fall-back options or of the possibility of continued negotiations in the event the summit failed." (Robert Malley and Hussein Agha)
To quote Middle East scholar and journalist David Hirst: "Barak conceived the fantastically overweening notion of telescoping everything - the 'interim' stages which had fallen hopelessly behind schedule as well as the 'final status' ones which had been left to the end precisely because they were so intractable - into one climactic conclave. This would 'end the 100-year conflict' at a stroke." ( The Guardian , November 11, 2004.)
Barak's lack of sincerity during the summit is well illustrated by the fact he refused to negotiate directly with Arafat. According to Palestinian sources, "at one point... [Barak] did not come out of his cabin, the Dogwood, for two days and... he refused to meet with Mr. Arafat personally except for one tea." (Deborah Sontag)
Barak's shunning of Arafat also extended to Camp David social gatherings. As Palestinian official Nabil Sha'ath recounts, "[there was] one dinner in which Barak was on the right side of Clinton and Arafat was on the left. But [Clinton's daughter] Chelsea sat to the right of Barak all evening, and she received his undivided attention. Why the hell did he insist on a summit if he did not intend to meet his partner for a minute?" (Deborah Sontag,)
With the intention of manoeuvring Arafat into signing an agreement favourable to Israel, Barak constantly shifted positions. "Yet, at the same time, he gave clear hints that Israel was willing to show more flexibility if Arafat was prepared to 'contemplate' the endgame. Bottom lines and false bottoms: the tension and the ambiguity were always there...." (Robert Malley and Hussein Agha)
It soon became obvious that Barak was bobbing and weaving in his "negotiations" and unwilling to make a firm commitment on any of the issues. He refused even to put his proposals in writing.
" The final and largely unnoticed consequence of Barak's approach is that, strictly speaking, there never was an Israeli offer [emphasis mine]. Determined to preserve Israel's position in the event of failure, and resolved not to let the Palestinians take advantage of one-sided compromises, the Israelis always stopped one, if not several, steps short of a proposal. The ideas put forward at Camp David were never stated in writing, but orally conveyed. They generally were presented as US concepts, not Israeli ones; indeed, despite having demanded the opportunity to negotiate face to face with Arafat, Barak refused to hold any substantive meeting with him at Camp David out of fear that the Palestinian leader would seek to put Israeli concessions on the record. Nor were the proposals detailed. If written down, the American ideas at Camp David would have covered no more than a few pages. Barak and the Americans insisted that Arafat accept them as general 'bases for negotiations' before launching into more rigorous negotiations." (Robert Malley and Hussein Agha)
While ready to negotiate regarding the key issues of East Jerusalem/the Old City (e.g., as a joint capital with each country having sovereignty over its holy sites), a just settlement of the refugee problem, and willing to accept minor land swaps, Arafat and his associates insisted that the borders between Israel and Palestine must be essentially the armistice lines that existed on 4 June 1967 (i.e. those established in 1949.) Hence, they would not agree to the Clinton/Barak verbal proposals even as a starting point for to do so could be interpreted as a willingness on their part to compromise Palestinians' rights enshrined in international law and UN Resolutions.
"The Palestinians saw acceptance of the US ideas, even as 'bases for further negotiations,' as presenting dangers of its own. The Camp David proposals were viewed as inadequate: they were silent on the question of refugees, the land exchange was unbalanced, and both the Haram [al Sharif or Noble Sanctuary] and much of Arab East Jerusalem were to remain under Israeli sovereignty. To accept these proposals in the hope that Barak would then move further risked diluting the Palestinian position in a fundamental way: by shifting the terms of debate from the international legitimacy of the United Nations resolutions on Israeli withdrawal and on refugee return to the imprecise ideas suggested by the US. Without the guarantee of a deal, this was tantamount to gambling with what the Palestinians considered their most valuable currency, international legality." (Robert Malley and Hussein Agha)
Fatally flawed, the Camp David summit collapsed on July 25. Arafat could not abandon U.N. resolutions and international law regarding Palestinians' human rights as refugees and/or an occupied people with the right to self-determination. Nor could he surrender their legal right to establish a capital in East Jerusalem (the Old City) and to have sovereignty over its Christian and Muslim holy sites.
As David Hirst put it, "[Arafat] might be Mr Palestine, but he had no Palestinian, Arab or Islamic mandate for ceding Jerusalem's sovereignty or abandoning the rights of four million refugees." (David Hirst, The Guardian , November 11, 2004.)
Now that its details have been revealed, we know that far from being "generous," the Barak/Clinton offer was not only unwritten but also an insult to Palestinians. It did not meet the minimum requirements of international law or the 1993 Oslo accords which call for implementation of Resolution 242. Arafat would have also been required to renounce any further claims against Israel.
The proposals did call for Israel's complete withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. Regarding the occupied West Bank, however, Palestinians were to recover considerably less than Israel's and Washington's much heralded "97 per cent."
Under the Barak/Clinton plan occupied historic East Jerusalem (the Old City) was to become part of Israel. (How outrageous! What is now known as East Jerusalem/the Old City was founded by the Canaanite ancestors of today's Palestinians circa 3000 BCE. The city was first referred to as "Jerusalem," i.e., "Rushalimum," more than 800 years before it is believed to have been captured by King David. Furthermore, in 1948, only one acre or one half of one per cent of the Old City was Jewish owned.) Also, with the exception of just eight neighbourhoods, the Barak/Clinton offer excluded all of what is in fact entirely Palestinian owned land within the so-called boundaries of occupied East Jerusalem that Israel has illegally and dramatically extended into the West Bank since it illegally annexed the city shortly after the June 1967 war. East Jerusalem's extended boundaries now constitute 20% of the occupied West Bank. (For the record: The current Sharon Likud government intends for the boundaries to take up 30% of the West Bank.)
To add insult to injury, 80 per cent of Jewish settler/colonists were to remain in the West Bank with the result that the West Bank portion of the Palestinian "state" would have been surrounded by settlements and divided up by bypass roads for Jews only.
As compensation for annexing much of the West Bank's, including its most fertile lands and the majority of its water aquifers, Israel offered the Palestinians a piece of its own territory in the Negev desert that amounted to about ten per cent of what it would annex and included a former toxic waste dump.
Israel would have also retained control of the air space over the West Bank and Gaza Strip, all the West Bank's water aquifers, (Jewish settlers have nearly depleted the Gaza Strip's aquifers), sea access to the Gaza Strip, maintained forces along the borders with Jordan and Egypt and its military was to have the right to enter the Palestinian "state" any time it saw fit.
In short, apart from being completely under Israel's control, the Palestinian "state" as proposed by Barak and Clinton, consisted of three Bantustans in the West Bank along with the Gaza Strip as an outdoor prison. It would have also been impossible for Palestinians to travel or trade freely within their own "state" without Israel's permission. Nor would they have free access to Egypt or Jordan or be able to conduct meaningful foreign relations with other countries.
As Arafat noted, the so-called Palestinian "state" was to be "less than a Bantustan.... They have to control the Jordan Valley, with five early warning stations there.... They have to control the air above, the water aquifers below, the sea [off the Gaza Strip] and the borders. They have to divide the West Bank in three cantons. They keep 10 percent of it for settlements and roads and their forces. No sovereignty over Haram al Sharif. And refugees, we didn't have a serious discussion about." (Deborah Sontag)
Even though it included all of the Gaza Strip which comprises 1.4 per cent of what was British mandated Palestine and 6.37 per cent of the mere 22 per cent of mandated Palestine that Palestinians have generously agreed to accept as a state, the Barak/Clinton proposal actually amounted to just over eight per cent of mandated Palestine. Apart from retaining all of the Old City, nearly all land within illegally expanded East Jerusalem, settlement blocs, roads, and cordons sanitaire , his proposal called for large sections of the West Bank to be set aside for "natural reserves" and "areas of military nature." (An example of "areas of military nature" is the announcement on 16 September 2005, by Israel's occupation army that it will confiscate 600 square meters of Palestinian farmlands in the Al Bweita area, northeast of Hebron, in order to construct a military camp.) 2
In other words, Barak and Clinton offered the Palestinians a "state" consisting of only about 37 per cent of the 22 per cent of mandated Palestine it had invaded in 1967 (East Jerusalem/the Old City, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip), all of which is illegally and belligerently occupied under international law, including UN Security Council resolutions.
Significantly, of vital concern to Arafat, Barak made no real offer regarding Palestinian refugees' right of return. This despite the fact that as noted above, Arafat and the PA had indicated they were prepared to recommend to Palestinians that a solution be sought that did not threaten Israel's Jewish majority.
The Camp David summit failed primarily due to the fact that Barak and Clinton made no offer to the Palestinians that provided a credible basis for negotiations.
"In July 2000, at President Clinton's Camp David retreat, he [Barak] laid before Arafat his take-it-or-leave-it historic compromise. In return for his solemnly abjuring all further claims on Israel, Israel would acquiesce in the emergence of a Palestine state. Or at least the pathetic travesty of one, covering even less than the 22% of the original homeland to which he had already agreed to confine it; without real sovereignty, East Jerusalem as its capital, or the return of refugees. Most of the detested, illegal settlements would remain." (David Hirst, The Guardian , 11 November 2004)
The contention by Israel and its supporters that Arafat and his negotiators failed to come up with any proposals of their own regarding key issues is contradicted by the facts. As Malley and Agha note regarding the Palestinians' readiness to negotiate a solution to the refugee issue that would not threaten Israel's majority: "No other Arab party that has negotiated with Israel, not Anwar el-Sadat's Egypt, not King Hussein's Jordan, let alone Hafez al-Asad's Syria ever came close to even considering such compromises." (Robert Malley and Hussein Agha)
Arafat and his team also put counter proposals on the table. Regarding the very difficult matter of East Jerusalem, Israeli Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami revealed that "he spent considerable time after Camp David trying to explain to Israelis that the Palestinians indeed did make significant concessions from their vantage point. 'They agreed to Israeli sovereignty over Jewish neighbourhoods in East Jerusalem, 11 of them', he said. 'They agreed to the idea that three blocs of the settlements they so oppose could remain in place and that the Western Wall and Jewish Quarter could be under Israeli sovereignty.' " (Deborah Sontag)
Perhaps the definitive analysis of what took place during discussions at Camp David and why they failed is provided in the just published The Truth about Camp David: The Untold Story about the Collapse of the Middle East Peace Process (Nation Books, 2004) by Clayton Swisher who interviewed many of the officials present, including Secretary of State Madeline Albright, U.S. negotiator Dennis Ross, and senior negotiators for Israel and the Palestinians. As a copy of his book is not yet available to me, I quote the following summation of Swisher's conclusions in a book review by the late Jude Wanniski (former economic advisor to the Reagan administration), who wrote on Middle East affairs for Aljazeera's English website:
"And if Arafat is not the villain, who is? The simple answer is, there is none. The talks broke down because they were not carefully prepared in the way President Carter's Camp David summit with Egypt's Anwar Sadat and Israel's Menachem Begin were. They could not have succeeded because Barak was not prepared to make a critical concession to Arafat regarding Jerusalem."
"The closest Swisher comes to blaming anyone for the collapse is in his accounts of the behaviour of President Clinton himself, who refused to accept the fact that Arafat was in no position to accept the deal offered by Barak. [My emphasis] After all, Arafat was only representing the interests of the Palestinians and could not speak for the Islamic world on the holy places of Jerusalem."
"Clinton was dazzled by Barak's offer to 'put Jerusalem on the table' - the first time that had ever been done by an Israeli leader - and tried to browbeat Arafat into accepting.
But in only offering 'custodial control' of the Temple Mount to Arafat, i.e., the right to collect garbage and run security patrols in that part of Jerusalem, Barak had to know Arafat could not possibly have accepted it, and if he had, his own people would have assassinated him."
"Swisher quotes from notes taken at one session, with Arafat horrified that Barak had persuaded Dennis Ross - who spent 90% of his private time at Camp David with Barak - to alter the wording on Jerusalem. Instead of stating: 'The Jerusalem municipal area will host the national capitals of both Israel and the Palestinian state,' Ross crossed out 'municipal area' and wrote in: 'The expanded area of Jerusalem will host the national capitals of both Israel and the Palestinian state.' 'Expanded area,' of course, meant giving the Palestinians a capital in the suburbs."
"Clinton still thought this was a good deal and hammered at Arafat to accept. Swisher quotes the notes taken of Arafat's response: 'The Palestinian leader who will give up Jerusalem has not yet been born. I will not betray my people or the trust they have placed in me. Don't look to me to legitimise the occupation. No one can continue indefinitely to impose domination by military force - look at South Africa. Our people will not accept less than their rights as stated by international resolutions and international legality.' "
"President Clinton could see time was running out on his administration and a chance of leaving the Oval Office with an Arab/Israeli deal dwindling. If he could not get a deal, it could not be his fault."
"Even though in order to get Arafat to the slapdash summit, the president had promised that if there could be no deal, there would be no blame assessed, Clinton went back on his word. He did so by announcing to the world that there was no deal even though Barak had been courageous in offering Arafat a great deal."
"In Swisher's account, Arafat's big mistake was to fly back to Ramallah without holding a press conference to challenge Clinton's assessment of why the talks failed: 'For these reasons, Barak's government and its supporters in the United States unleashed one of the greatest PR frauds in history, still dominating the US and Israeli media to this day'." (Jude Wanniski, 9 January 2005) 3
Shortly after I began this essay, a superb analysis of the 2000 Camp David summit by Kathleen Christison, a former CIA political analyst who has worked on Middle East issues for 30 years, was published in the 15 August 2005 online issue of Counterpunch . 4
Entitled "Camp David Redux," Ms. Christison's article confirms what I have already discussed and provides additional information, including more of what Clayton Swisher discovered. I quote Ms. Christison extensively:
"Writing on the Washington Post op-ed page in May 2005, Aaron David Miller [a leading member of Clinton's negotiating team at Camp David,] admitted that Clinton and company followed Israel's lead 'without critically examining what that would mean for our own interests, for those on the Arab side and for the overall success of the negotiations.' The Clinton team's practice of running everything past Israel first 'stripped our policy of the independence and flexibility required for serious peacemaking. Far too often. . .our departure point was not what was needed to reach an agreement acceptable to both sides but what would pass with only one -- Israel.' The result was utter failure; in these circumstances, no agreement could possibly meet Palestinian as well as Israeli needs...."
"Clinton and his negotiators were so eager, in pursuit of Israel's interests and of Clinton's much-ballyhooed 'legacy,' to forge a peace agreement at all costs before the end of his term, and were so outraged when the Palestinians refused to relinquish their hope for true independence and sovereignty by complying with Israel's inadequate offer at Camp David, that they quite deliberately shifted the entire onus for failure onto the Palestinians...."
"The truth of things...becomes crystal clear in a remarkable book [entitled The Truth About Camp David: The Untold Story About the Collapse of the Middle East Peace Process , 2005] by [Clayton E. Swisher,] a young graduate student who, with no vested interest...interviewed most of the principals involved in the peace process, as well as several lower ranking functionaries, and produced an account of U.S. policymaking that is strikingly honest and revealing...."
"Swisher's story...is a tale of an incredibly ham-handed diplomatic effort. Clinton and his negotiating team come across as a kind of gang that couldn't shoot straight. Swisher describes turf squabbles between Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and National Security Adviser Sandy Berger and most particularly, between an egotistical Dennis Ross and, at one time or another, virtually everyone else. Albright, it comes clear repeatedly, knew virtually nothing about the issues.... The U.S. mediators made little effort to narrow positions before the summits, and there was little of the give-and-take essential in negotiations. One State Department official tells Swisher that at Camp David everything was 'very loosy-goosy,' with no prepared texts and no detailed position papers, because 'that's the way Dennis liked to run things.'..."
"The dithering over its own position even months after Camp David and the poor preparation for the summit in the first place were entirely attributable to the utter reluctance of Clinton et al. to take any steps without Israel's approval.... [I]n Swisher's account, one interlocutor after another makes it patently evident that the strong tilt toward Israel is what ultimately upended negotiations. Albright, in a rare mood of candour, all but apologizes several times for not having pressed Israel harder. She tells Swisher that when Barak first came to office in 1999, succeeding the very intransigent Benjamin Netanyahu, the Clinton people were so pleased to see him that they simply assumed he had 'enough of a political strategic view' to move ahead on negotiations, but they were mistaken. She acknowledges that throughout the process 'we should have been much harder' on Israel, particularly on Israeli settlements, which Barak was expanding at a faster rate than Netanyahu had...."
"One unnamed senior White House official, asked why it took so many months after Camp David to release Clinton's parameters, tells Swisher, 'There were certain proposals that Barak didn't want put forward because he didn't think he could sell them back home. Also, realize that the U.S. is pro-Israeli. Clinton was the first president who first reached out to Palestinians -- like no other -- but at the end of the day, Clinton was a pro-Israeli president. When push came to shove... if Barak said don't put this in front of him, [Clinton] wasn't going to.'... "
" Swisher concludes that the U.S. acted as 'an extra negotiator for the Israelis and an apologist for Barak's plans to sustain the occupation' ...." (My emphasis)
"At the most critical point in 50-plus years of dealing with the Arab-Israeli conflict, the United States, in a breathtaking abdication of responsibility, allowed Israel alone to set the starting point, the pace, and the agenda...."
"Probably most appalling in this story of a monumental U.S. policy failure is that the major U.S. players had virtually no understanding of the Palestinians, despite seven years of what can only be called intense dealings with them. Clinton's policymakers did not understand what the Palestinians were enduring under Israeli occupation; conveniently forgot the huge concession the Palestinians had made a dozen years earlier by recognizing Israel's existence in 78 percent of original Palestine; had no appreciation of the significance for Palestinians of the massive spread of Israeli settlements throughout the only territory remaining for a Palestinian state; did not understand the critical need from the Palestinian standpoint for a reasonable resolution to the refugee problem; and fathomed nothing of how totally impossible it was for Arafat or any Muslim or Arab leader to agree to Israel's demand for sovereignty over Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem. They simply did not 'get it,'...."
"At Camp David, Swisher notes, even after seven years, ' [Dennis] Ross was still nowhere near the most basic understanding of what the Palestinians would consider minimally acceptable regarding territory.' Fundamentally, as Swisher points out but Ross has apparently never grasped, as the occupying power with total control over 'the very thing the Palestinians wanted -- a state -- the Israelis would naturally have to be more forthcoming [than the Palestinian side]; this could only occur if the central mediator stood between both parties and demonstrated a willingness to 'swing elbows'.' But neither Ross nor any of his colleagues, including Clinton, saw the need to do this."
(Kathleen Christison, "Camp David Redux," 5
President Clinton's violation of his pledge not to blame Arafat for the summit's failure and his praise of Barak were met with great disappointment by key negotiators on both sides.
"Clinton praised Mr. Barak's courage and vision and said Mr. Arafat had not made an equivalent effort. [Nabil Sha'ath] said 'I personally pleaded with President Clinton: please do not put on a sad face and tell the world it failed. Please say we broke down taboos, dealt with the heart of the matter and will continue. But then the president started the blame game, and he backed Arafat into a corner.' "
"[Shlomo] Ben-Ami, [Israel's foreign minister at the time,] expressed a similar sentiment: 'At the end of Camp David, we had the feeling that the package as such contained ingredients and needed to go on. But Clinton left us to our own devices after he started the blame game. He was trying to give Barak a boost knowing he had political problems going home empty handed but with his concessions revealed. But in doing so he created problems with the other side'." (Deborah Sontag)
Terge Roed-Larsen, the United Nations Special Envoy to the Middle East, is very critical of those who accuse Arafat of causing the summit's failure: "It is a terrible myth that Arafat and only Arafat caused this catastrophic failure. All three parties made mistakes, and in such complex negotiations, everyone is bound to. But no one is solely to blame." (Deborah Sontag)
There can be no doubt that the participant most responsible for Camp David's failure was the one with the most clout, President Clinton. His lack of preparation, urgent desire to achieve a peace agreement to crown his presidency, surprising ignorance of Palestinians' minimum requirements, and refusal to stand up to Barak doomed the summit from the beginning. Also, by blaming Arafat for the summit's failure while praising Barak's puny efforts, Clinton began the demonization of Arafat and in effect poisoned the peace process.
Kathleen Christison aptly sums up Clinton's duplicity:
"As has been evident since the day Camp David collapsed, Yasir Arafat became the focus and the easy scapegoat for all the Americans' frustrations over their own failures. Their excuses for the collapse of negotiations -- almost all adopted wholesale from Barak -- centered entirely on Arafat...."
"The deliberate distortions and myths about supposed Palestinian intransigence have been repeated and perpetuated by each of the principals and picked up and made into legend by media commentators. Clinton spent Inauguration Day 2001, according to Swisher, telling the incoming Bush team about his disappointment with Arafat, who he said had torpedoed the peace process, and he urged Colin Powell not to invest any energy dealing with the Palestinian leader...."
With Clinton's approval, Dennis Ross, the egotistical loyal servant of Israel, did a real hatchet job on Arafat. "[He] actually worked with an Israeli negotiator in the middle of the night before the summit collapsed to draft Clinton's 'blame speech,' casting Arafat as the bad guy and Barak as the courageous risk-taker.... [Ross also] spent four hours with [Colin] Powell during the transition and reportedly told the incoming secretary of state not to believe a word Arafat said because he was 'a con man.' " (Kathleen Christison)
Even now, five years later, Ross continues to attack Arafat.
"In voluminous interviews (including with Swisher) and commentaries over the last several years, as well as in his own memoirs, Arafat always figures as the culprit and as Ross's central obsession. The obsession -- fed by Barak, shared to a great degree by Clinton, and magnified by an Israel-centric media in the U.S. -- became a comfortable retreat for Americans who could not acknowledge U.S. responsibility and would not acknowledge Israel's responsibility, so closely bound was the U.S. to Israel. Swisher ends his account with a semi-apology from [Aaron David] Miller, who participated in Ross's four-hour briefing of Powell. 'You don't want to give centrality to how you fucked up,' Miller confessed. 'Dennis [Ross] could have never brought himself to do it, and neither could I.' " (Kathleen Christison)
Where it counted, in the eyes of his people, President Arafat emerged from the Camp David summit with his reputation considerably enhanced. "Mr. Arafat 'rode home on a white horse,' Mr. [Nabil] Sha'ath said, because he showed Palestinians that he 'still cared about Jerusalem and the refugees.' He was perceived as having stood strong in the face of incredible pressure from the Americans and the Israelis." (Deborah Sontag)
Arafat returned home believing that President Clinton would be true to his word and not blame him for the summit's collapse. He must have felt a great sense of betrayal and anger when Washington and Israel promptly launched an extensive media campaign accusing him of standing in the way of peace while lauding Barak for his "generous offer."
Meanwhile, Ariel Sharon, leader of Israel's Likud party, was waiting in the wings eager to exploit Camp David's collapse to his advantage in the upcoming election.
The next article will deal with the outbreak of the 2000 Al Aqsa or Second Intifada.
Gary Keenan lives in Vancouver, B.C. Canpalnet-Ottawa previously published his article entitled "Issa Fahel, A Man to Remember." It can be found at http://www.canpalnet-ottawa.org/canpalissafahel.html Gary is currently writing a book entitled "My Home, My Land, My Country - A Palestinian Remembers" based on Issa's Fahel's life and the documented history of Palestine.