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Arafat chose terrorism and suicide bombings instead of peace
The Washington Post (www.washingtonpost.com) has a good article on how Israelis and Palestinians see the peace talks at Camp David differently.
Right or wrong, interpretation has a way of creating its own reality. For Sharon, Bush, former Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak, and perhaps the majority of Israelis, the breakdown of the Camp David talks was an indictment of Arafat, the Israeli left and the entire Palestinian people. Barak had made unprecedented concessions, accepting a redivision of Jerusalem, shared power in the Old City and Israeli withdrawal from more than 90 percent of the occupied territories. Barak's line afterwards, that Arafat was offered the moon and turned it down, renders further negotiations pointless. The charge that Arafat chose terror over a generous peace has transformed the Palestinian leader from a frequent White House guest under Clinton to White House pariah today, from an interlocutor with Israel to its virtual prisoner. And it made Israel's peace proponents a quixotic, and irrelevant, group. [...]
I copy the full article below. The following articles are also related to the Camp David peace talks:
* Arafat and Palestinians refuse peace, wish for destruction of Israel, an interview with Ehud Barak, who was Israel's Prime Minister at the Camp David peace talks.
Camp David: Whose Story Is It, Anyway?
On July 16, 2000, Mohammad Dahlan, then the Palestinian security chief in the Gaza Strip, was ensconced at a cabin at Camp David in Maryland's Catoctin Mountains, trying to work out the details of a peace agreement with Israel. Exactly two years later, under Israeli curfew, he was stuck in a house on the West Bank, unable to travel to a studio five minutes away to get a video hookup to a Brookings Institution conference on the Mideast.
"I took part in the Camp David talks, and I was one of those who fought very hard to reach an agreement, and I was accused by others in the Palestinian delegation of being too keen to reach a deal," Dahlan, strangely disembodied, told the Brookings group via a phone connection from his home. "But . . . I was the first to refuse what was offered . . . because it was not a written proposal." While "there were deep negotiations," Dahlan argued that "there was no serious proposal offered in Camp David" and "no agreement that we could see at the end of the tunnel that we could regret [turning down]."
Three hours later, Israeli minister without portfolio Dan Meridor (appearing live, in D.C.) gave the same Brookings audience a different version of why Camp David failed. He, too, had been at the U.S. presidential retreat during those fateful talks, and he said that "it was quite clear to most of us there that we almost reached an agreement on most of the issues that were at stake." To him, the obstacle was Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, who deep down refused to accept the existence of a Jewish state.
These two views are part of a larger battle still raging over why the negotiations hosted by President Clinton at Camp David failed. This is not an academic exercise in history. Nor is it an effort by the two sides to achieve greater understanding of one another in order to address each other's needs, fears and hopes. Instead, this is an effort by people on both sides to lay claim to the definitive Camp David narrative. Why is it so important to interpret this episode of the past? Because the present and the future depend on it.
History has often been used as a way of justifying the present. The Stamp Act mobilized American supporters of revolution a decade later. Chinese nationalism has been fueled by memories of British involvement in the opium trade in the mid-1800s and the Japanese occupation in parts of the 1930s and '40s. German complaints about the treaty ending World War I fed the fascism of the 1930s. And Russian pogroms and the Holocaust gave impetus to the Zionist movement. There are different ways of telling each of these stories, some simply reflecting differences of perspective, some reflecting a willingness to bend the truth, but all used to hold sway over the present -- which is why there is such competition today to control the dominant narrative of what happened two years ago at Camp David.
Right or wrong, interpretation has a way of creating its own reality. For Sharon, Bush, former Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak, and perhaps the majority of Israelis, the breakdown of the Camp David talks was an indictment of Arafat, the Israeli left and the entire Palestinian people. Barak had made unprecedented concessions, accepting a redivision of Jerusalem, shared power in the Old City and Israeli withdrawal from more than 90 percent of the occupied territories. Barak's line afterwards, that Arafat was offered the moon and turned it down, renders further negotiations pointless. The charge that Arafat chose terror over a generous peace has transformed the Palestinian leader from a frequent White House guest under Clinton to White House pariah today, from an interlocutor with Israel to its virtual prisoner. And it made Israel's peace proponents a quixotic, and irrelevant, group.
A different explanation of Camp David's failure, however, a less black or white view of Arafat's role there, would introduce gray areas for current policy. Maybe Arafat's lack of leadership wasn't the only problem. Maybe there is a point to further negotiations to solve substantive problems.
For all parties involved, how one interprets Camp David colors views of the past two years. If agreement was impossible, then the current violence may have been inevitable, if futile. For Palestinians, if Camp David was an opportunity missed, then Arafat's leadership should be in question and the hundreds of lives lost in the current intifada have been wasted. And for Israelis, if Camp David was an opportunity missed, then maybe Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's hard-line approach to negotiations is the wrong strategy. For Americans, if Camp David was an opportunity missed, then the fault often cited by President Bush -- excessive involvement by Clinton -- wasn't the problem. Instead, it would be inadequate preparation beforehand or Clinton moves that put Arafat in a box afterwards, and Bush's hands-off approach should be called into question.
The rival Camp David narratives go something like this.
In a New York Review of Books article last month written by Israeli historian Benny Morris, Barak argued that the failure at Camp David wasn't a matter of substance, but a question of Arafat's character and sincerity. Arafat engaged in a "performance" at Camp David, Barak said. Barak told Morris that the Palestinian leader sees himself as a modern Saladin (the Kurdish Muslim general who defeated the Crusaders in the 12th century) and views a peace agreement with Israel as a modern version of a temporary truce that the prophet Muhammad concluded in 628-629, then violated. Arafat believes that Israel "has no right to exist, and he seeks its demise," Barak added. Arafat's insistence that Palestinian refugees had a right to return to their homes in Israel was a way of subverting the Jewish state. The former Israeli prime minister went further, indicting the entire Palestinian people. "They are products of a culture in which to tell a lie . . . creates no dissonance," he said. "They don't suffer from the problem of telling lies that exists in Judeo-Christian culture. . . . There is only that which serves your purpose and that which doesn't." Barak said that Arafat chose terrorist violence despite the fact that Barak went further at Camp David than any Israeli could have imagined.
Leading Palestinians explain the failure differently. Ghassan Khatib, minister of labor in the new Palestinian Authority cabinet, says it was Barak who never wanted a deal over the most sensitive points. He wrote earlier this month on a Web site called bitterlemons.org (which presents Israeli and Palestinian views), that Barak "did not want to concede on crucial issues such as the refugees, Jerusalem and a real end to Israeli control over the occupied Palestinian territories and their borders." Khatib cited the delays in Israeli troop redeployments under Barak -- in violation of the Oslo and Wye River accords. Though Barak made them out to be trivial since a final agreement would push troops back much farther, Khatib said Barak used the delays to strengthen his hand. "Territory was then to be used as a bargaining chip for avoiding compromise on other issues," Khatib said.
Dahlan says that even after Barak surprised negotiators by breaking many Israeli taboos over Jerusalem, there were missing pieces, such as details on land swaps or issues concerning refugees. Moreover, because of Barak's anxiety about political fallout at home, nothing proposed was written down. Nonetheless, Khatib complained, Barak "promoted the impression that this was a take-it-or-leave-it deal and that it should not be considered a step followed by others. He did not want this process to remain alive after Camp David."
Still another narrative of Camp David was told in the New York Review of Books in August 2001 by Robert Malley, who attended the talks as a member of Clinton's National Security Council staff, and Palestinian professor and adviser Hussein Agha. They said that Barak had instilled mistrust among Palestinians not only by delaying troop redeployments, but also by allowing the establishment of new Jewish settlements and letting Palestinians wait while he tried to strike a deal with Syria over the Golan Heights.
Once at Camp David, Palestinians did make significant concessions on matters of principle, Malley and Agha argued, by accepting the idea of land swaps that would allow Israeli annexation of some formerly Arab sections of Jerusalem and settlements in the West Bank in return for Palestinian possession of land inside the pre-1967 Israeli borders. Malley and Agha maintained that Palestinians were wary about embracing an agreement without resolving the right of return, which they said was "barely discussed" at Camp David. But Malley and Agha also blamed Arafat for failing to see that Barak was ready to make unprecedented concessions. And they said Arafat was preoccupied with political schemes instead of coming up with concrete proposals.
To justify his own failure to reach an agreement, Barak says that whatever his negotiators were saying, Arafat himself never affirmed Israel's right to exist or its legitimacy, and never budged on the Palestinians' right of return. This view has become prevailing wisdom in the Bush administration and among most Israelis, and, combined with the attacks of Sept. 11, has been fatal for peace talks and nearly fatal for Arafat. Even if suicide attacks stopped, it would be awkward at best for Israel to go back to the bargaining table. "Arafat's credentials as a serial liar are impressive," Morris wrote. "It is time that the West's leaders, who initially dealt with Saddam [Hussein] and [Slobodan] Milosevic as acceptable, responsible interlocutors, now treat Arafat and his ilk in the Palestinians camp as the vicious, untrustworthy, unacceptable reprobates and recidivists that they are."
It is possible to accept elements of all these Camp David narratives and come up with different lessons for the future. Accept that Arafat cannot bring himself to make tough decisions and that he seeks consensus even with extremists. In that case, Barak's idea of striking a single bold deal was wrong. The entire concept of the Camp David talks -- modeled on the peace talks President Carter hosted for Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin at the Maryland retreat in 1978 -- was the wrong approach. Morris quotes Barak as saying that he "hoped Arafat would rise to the occasion and display something of greatness, like Sadat and [Jordan's King] Hussein, at the moment of truth. They did not wait for a consensus [among their people], they decided to lead."
Does that render all negotiations futile? Instead of summitry and secrecy that requires strong leadership, perhaps the American, Israeli and Palestinian peace negotiators needed to hold talks at lower levels and in the open, so that they could build acceptance and constituencies for the difficult terms any deal would require.
Yossi Beilin, a leading Israeli proponent of peace talks who was a negotiator at Camp David, said last week that the reason it failed wasn't because the two sides were far apart, but because they were too close together. That meant both sides realized that if an accord had been reached, they would have had to return to their constituents and admit that they had been promoting fictions. For Israelis, the fiction was that Jerusalem would remain their undivided capital forever. For Palestinians, the fiction was that the refugees of 1948 would be able to return to homes inside Israel. "Both [would have] had to return to their constituents and say 'we have deceived ourselves and we have deceived you.' "
Oddly, while the two sides do battle over explanations of Camp David's failure, the outline of the agreement that was under discussion there has gained greater acceptance. As Meridor, who once supported Israeli settlement expansion, said, "I think that the hawkish side woke up from the dream that they had" -- the "very sweet dreams" -- and that 80 percent of Israelis have come to accept that "we are going to end up in a two-state solution, the borders are to be negotiated, but we know more or less what they would look like. And this is a major shift in Israeli public opinion." Leading Palestinian pollster and analyst Khalil Shikaki agreed that it "is very clear what the ultimate contours of a deal are going to be. Both societies, I believe, do accept that."
The problem remains getting to that solution. Among both Israelis and Palestinians there is a sense of pursuing justice, or vengeance, for the last killing, for some ancient or recent historical wrong. Every day, the list grows longer. A Jewish American woman I spoke to recently captured that spirit by insisting that it was not fair to expect Israel to withdraw from Hebron, a town with a couple of hundred Jews surrounded by hundreds of thousands of Palestinians. She cited Jews' ancient links to the city. Many Palestinians have identical feelings about places in pre-1967 Israel. But if fairness, or justice, is what people are seeking in the Middle East, the killing could go on forever. If a workable solution is what people are looking for, then they are likely to return to the substance and outlines explored at Camp David.
Steven Mufson is an assistant editor in Outlook
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