July 25, 2001
W hat a difference a year makes. It was 12 months ago today, on July 25, 2000, that the tense and dramatic Camp David summit finally came to a head, with Yasser Arafat turning down the president of the United States and rejecting the package of far-reaching Israeli concessions offered by then-prime minister Ehud Barak. After two weeks of round-the-clock wrangling, the summit abruptly broke off, effectively sealing the fate of the Oslo process, just seven years after it had begun. Two months later, the violence began, and it has yet to show any signs of letting up.
At the time there was a clear sense that the Palestinians had missed an unprecedented opportunity to achieve their stated goals. Now, with the benefit of hindsight, that initial impression has only gained in strength. It is worth recalling that Barak went to Washington intent on laying all of his cards on the table.
On virtually every issue, Barak offered Arafat more than he could ever have hoped for. He reportedly was prepared to divide Jerusalem, share sovereignty on the Temple Mount, give the Palestinians control over 95% of the territories, uproot most of the settlements and even turn over part of the Halutza region of the Negev to the Palestinians. Barak was even ready, it is said, to recognize the "right of return" and allow tens of thousands of Palestinians abroad to settle within pre-1967 Israel.
And yet, despite Barak's unparalleled largesse, Arafat stubbornly rebuffed the proposal. He did not offer a counter-proposal of his own, nor did he show any inclination to use Barak's package of concessions as a basis for further talks. With opportunity knocking, Arafat chose to slam the door shut. That Arafat was indeed the one responsible for the breakdown of Camp David is attested to by none other than Bill Clinton himself. Newsweek reported last month that Clinton told guests at a New York dinner party that Arafat had called him to say goodbye three days before he left office. "You are a great man," Arafat told Clinton, who then replied, "The hell I am. I'm a colossal failure and you made me one." Clinton reportedly told his listeners that Arafat is an aging leader who relishes his own sense of victimhood and is incapable of signing a final peace deal. "He could only get to step five, and he needed to get to step 10," Clinton said. Clearly, the former president lays the blame entirely at Arafat's door.
Historians and analysts will no doubt ponder Arafat's intransigence for years to come, wondering why on earth the Palestinian leader would reject a plan that appeared to meet almost all of his demands. By returning to large-scale terror and violence against Israel, Arafat has unwittingly provided the answer: He was never truly interested in peace with Israel in the first place. Arafat's declarations over the years about the need to wage jihad against Israel, his comparisons of the Oslo Accords to the temporary cease-fires that Muhammad signed with the Quraish tribe, only to violate them once he was strong enough to vanquish his enemies, now take on added significance.
At the time, such statements were explained away as little more than attempts by Arafat to appease the extremists in his own camp. But with the Palestinian security services now playing a central role in the current warfare against Israel, and with Arafat persistently refusing to halt the violence despite the Mitchell Report and the Tenet cease-fire proposal, it is now clear that such statements truly embodied his ultimate goal - to wipe Israel off the map.
Camp David, and the failed Oslo experiment that precipitated it, have left the Middle East in tatters. Israelis and Palestinians are now in open conflict, with the danger of a wider conflagration perhaps greater than at any time in the past decade. Large sectors of the Israeli public have been stripped of their illusions about the Palestinians, and a strong shift to the political Right is clearly under way. Mixed feelings seem to prevail among many Israelis, for the country did all that it could to achieve peace, demonstrating once again to the world that Israel is a peace-loving nation. But this is countered by the sobering thought that there is no partner on the other side, no one that Israel can negotiate with to finally put an end to the conflict. Of the three central players at Camp David, two - Barak and Clinton - have already left the stage. Alone under the glare of the lights, Arafat now stands before the world, his true face finally exposed for all the world to see. Therein lies the real legacy of Camp David, one year later.
©2001 - Jerusalem Post