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On ‘missed opportunities’

Opinion
on 7 Comments

A myth that the Palestinians keep “missing opportunities” to find lasting solutions is being revived from Jared Kushner, to Tony Blair, to Mohammed bin Salman.

The prime example that is often raised is the 2000 Camp David Summit between the late Chairman of the PLO Yasser Arafat and the former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, where Palestinians turned down what was often reported as a “generous” or “unprecedented offer.” 

The question is whether those who defend Israel’s generosity have even read Barak’s offer? Barak never presented a plan in writing to the Palestinians who were skeptical of an oral, not documented, commitment. Palestinians were blamed, not the Israelis even though the latter is both the occupier and at the time Barak had failed to implement in full the agreements Israel had already signed onto during the Oslo Accords.

So, what was that offer?

Palestinians perceived Camp David as an ambush. They were presented with a deal that was more favorable to Israel, than to Palestinians. Barak’s package would have given Palestinians a non-sovereign, truncated and demilitarized “state” in the West Bank and Gaza, and would terminate all future claims in historical Palestine, including the right of return for Palestinian refugees.

Barak refused to accept that Israel has any political, legal, or moral responsibility for the plight of the Palestinians. He dealt with the refugees on “humanitarian” grounds, within the framework of individual cases of family reunification. This clearly illustrates Israel’s attempt to relinquish all responsibility for the forceful emigration of Palestinian refugees and the destruction of Palestinian villages. Barak proposed allowing 100,000 out of then 5 million refugees to return and creating a fund of $30 billion to resettle refugees elsewhere.

On settlements, Barak demanded to annex 3 percent of the West Bank, which would allow all of the major settlement blocs, and around 80 percent of settlers, to remain. They would be supported by a complex Israeli road network in the West Bank that would constitute a drastic division of the land into four isolated cantons, with Israel able to sever territorial continuity at will. The settlements are connected by bypass roads that are not only under complete Israeli control but also swallowing scores of acres of Palestinian lands. In addition, many of the settlements are built over a water aquifer, thus depriving Palestinians of its access to water resources.

Jerusalem became an issue that hastened the unraveling of the negotiations. Either Palestinians give up sovereignty over the Muslim and Christian holy places in Jerusalem, relinquish parts of the Old City to Israel, and accept the role of “administrator” in East Jerusalem, or reject the whole offer outright, which they did.

Arafat was then panned for a “missed opportunity.” By scrutinizing the deal and trying to understand why Palestinians reject it, we can see Palestinian negotiators had deep concerns over massive losses of territory and an end to the statehood project rather than a start.

When Israelis spoke of  “95 percent of the West Bank and Gaza,” becoming part of a future state of Palestine, this excluded Jerusalem, the Latroun area and the Dead Sea, which translates into approximately 65 percent of the total area of the occupied Palestinian territory (excluding Gaza).

Moreover, one cannot dissociate the concept of “generous proposals” from the national rights of the Palestinian people. At the time of Camp David, Palestinian leaders had already accepted a political settlement based on international resolutions. In the year that the British Mandate began in 1922, the Palestinian people comprised around 90 percent of the population.

International resolutions allow building a state on 22 percent of historic Palestine. At the end of the 1967 war, UN resolution 242 established the framework for ending the occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem so that Palestinians can assert sovereignty, which was backed up by UN resolution 338 in the 1970s.

In addition, there are other UN resolutions, including resolution 465 which declared settlements violate the Fourth Geneva Convention and, as such, should be removed. Resolutions 478 and 252 have declared that the Israeli annexation of Jerusalem is illegitimate. Each one of these resolutions has been approved by the security council, including the US as a permanent member well before Trump’s administration decided to change those positions.

Further, both Barak and the Trump administration made the assumption that the settlements in Jerusalem and the surrounding area are legal. While Donald Trump recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, Barak divided the geographic and demographic unity of the city within the framework of complete Israeli control, including Palestinian self-rule areas in the so-called “Arab Districts.”

Barak’s “generous offer” also included the stipulation that Israel keep three early-warning stations in the West Bank, even though it already has satellite and other means of surveillance. In addition to various military positions that are to be maintained in order to store military equipment, it was stipulated that five military positions on the Jordanian border be kept under complete Israeli control for a period of six to 12 years. Israel insists on participating in the “observation” of Palestinian passage to Jordan and Egypt, and Israel’s warplanes would have the right to launch training flights over Palestinian air space.

Though not released, leaked documents on the contents of the Trump administration’s deal is even worse in its total denial of most precepts guaranteed to Palestinians under international law.  Of course, Palestinian acceptance of these conditions would be nothing less than legitimizing Israeli occupation. Would Palestinians have the same rights as Israel? Of course not. The new deal of the century reportedly would not remove any Israeli settlements.

So, are they really “missed opportunities,” as some claim? Are they serious Israeli or American attempts to find lasting solutions? The answer might be yes only if natives are expected to appreciate any offer regardless of what is in it.

Of course, the possibility of peace still exists if Israel is willing to comply with international law and convention which specify Israeli withdrawal from Palestinian territory to the borders of 1967, the recognition of the right of refugees to return, and the end of Israel’s apartheid laws against its Palestinian citizens. This is the real opportunity Israel keeps missing.

Haidar Eid

Haidar Eid is Associate Professor of Postcolonial and Postmodern Literature at Gaza's al-Aqsa University. He has written widely on the Arab-Israeli conflict, including articles published at Znet, Electronic Intifada, Palestine Chronicle, and Open Democracy. He has published papers on cultural Studies and literature in a number of journals, including Nebula, Journal of American Studies in Turkey, Cultural Logic, and the Journal of Comparative Literature.

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7 Responses

  1. Misterioso on January 14, 2020, 1:56 pm

    An excellent article Professor Eid about a very important subject!!

    More grist for the mill:

    The Camp David summit (July 11-25, 2000) failed primarily due to the fact that Barak and Clinton made no offer to the Palestinians that provided a credible basis for negotiations.

    As Aaron David Miller, a key member of the U.S. negotiating team, revealed to author Clayton Swisher (The Truth about Camp David: The Untold Story about the Collapse of the Middle East Peace Process, Nation Books, 2004), even at this late stage President Clinton remained poorly prepared. “Things got no better as the final months of Clinton’s administration went on. Miller confesses to Swisher that the so-called ‘parameters’ that Clinton finally presented [at Camp David] – the first time the Clinton team had ventured to adopt a policy position – were still being revised the very day they were presented, meaning that, as Miller notes, ‘we were not ready.’ This was less than a month before the end of eight years in office. Clinton and company lacked a clear strategy and ‘dithered’ over what exactly the parameters were to define.” (Kathleen Christison, “Camp David Redux, Counterpunch, 15 August 2005)

    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)

    “In July 2000, at President Clinton’s Camp David retreat, he [Barak] laid before Arafat his take-it-or-leave-it 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 2000.

    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 Robert Malley and Hussein 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, “Camp David: The Tragedy of Errors,” by Robert Malley and Hussein Agha, The New York Review of Books, 9 August 2001)

    Arafat and his team also put counter proposals on the table. Regarding the very difficult matter of East Jerusalem, Israeli Foreign Minister and chief Israeli negotiator at Camp David 2000, 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, “Quest for Mideast Peace: How and Why It Failed,” New York Times, 26 July 2001)

    With Clinton’s approval, “Dennis Ross, actually worked with an Israeli negotiator in the middle of the night before the [Camp David] 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 [to the Bush administration after Taba II] and reportedly told the incoming secretary of state not to believe a word Arafat said because he was ‘a con man.’ “(Kathleen Christison)

    Furthermore, according to author Clayton Swisher, “Clinton spent Inauguration Day 2001…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….” (Kathleen Christison)

    In short, working in tandem, Barak and Clinton tried to shove a very bad deal down Arafat’s throat during the 2000 Camp David Summit. It could only be rejected. Suffice to quote Shlomo Ben-Ami, then Israel’s foreign minister and lead negotiator at Camp David: “Camp David was not the missed opportunity for the Palestinians, and if I were a Palestinian I would have rejected Camp David, as well.” (National Public Radio, 14 February 2006.)

  2. Boomer on January 14, 2020, 2:52 pm

    Thanks for this review of a history that lives on. Of course the victims are blamed.

    This seems relevant:
    https://www.juancole.com/2020/01/sealed-forgotten-israels.html

  3. bcg on January 14, 2020, 4:44 pm

    There are now many books out examining the myth that the Palestinians have “never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity”, I recommend “War over Peace: One Hundred Years of Israel’s Militaristic Nationalism” by Uri Ben-Eliezer. From the Amazon blurb:

    “Violence and war have raged between Zionists and Palestinians for over a century, ever since Zionists, trying to establish a nation-state in Palestine, were forced to confront the fact that the country was already populated. Covering every conflict in Israel’s history, War over Peace reveals that Israeli nationalism was born ethnic and militaristic and has embraced these characteristics to this day. In his sweeping and original synthesis, Uri Ben-Eliezer shows that this militaristic nationalism systematically drives Israel to find military solutions for its national problems, based on the idea that the homeland is sacred and the territory is indivisible. When Israelis opposed to this ideology brought about change during a period that led to the Oslo Accords in the 1990s, cultural and political forces, reinforced by religious and messianic elements, prevented the implementation of the agreements, which brought violence back in the form of new wars. War over Peace is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand the role of ethnic nationalism and militarism in Israel as well as throughout the world.”

  4. brent on January 17, 2020, 1:30 am

    The Israeli double game for a long time was to “yearn for peace”, thereby keeping the American and Jewish money flowing, not getting to an agreement and blaming Palestinians for duplicitous intentions to destroy Israel…. made plausible by the anger.

    Sheik Yassein, the founder of Hamas, declared a ceasefire, aHudna, a 40 to 50-year stand-down, during which “matters could sort themselves out”. The old blind cleric had been regularly wheeled to his mosque every Friday and didn’t see the Hellfire missile coming. Body parts all over the mosque wall. Israel’s response to that opportunity for peace.

    Trump’s ego, wanting his “deal of the century” to prove he’s the greatest President of all time is quite possibly the only thing now that can bring about an agreement. Trump has been blunt, saying he’d cut Netanyahu’s money, “all of it” if necessary.

    Of course, either Abbas or Bolton may come to the rescue. Netanyahu is too smart to say “No” outright. Abbas and Erekat were not the last time around.

    • Mooser on January 17, 2020, 3:09 pm

      “Of course, either Abbas or Bolton may come to the rescue.” “brent”

      Riding on a Sparkle Ponies , or a Unicorns? Which one, of course, is hard to predict, I know, but I think you’re just the guy to take a shot at it, as they ‘slouch towards Jerusalem’!.

  5. Antoine Raffoul on January 18, 2020, 3:16 pm

    As usual, people who are interested in this century-old tragedy attempt to ‘go back’ to catch up on events to shed light on how this tragedy can be resolved. The problem is that authors of such an approach do not go back FAR ENOUGH to deal with the original source of the problem.
    As long as we remain blind to its core causes, the problem will keep haunting us for another century.

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