July/August 2000

MEMRI: Camp David and the Prospects for a Final Settlement

Part I: Israeli, Palestinian, and American Positions Unveiled
Part II: Reactions and Implications

Part I: Israeli, Palestinian, and American Positions Unveiled

The Camp David Summit was convened due to pressure from Israeli PM Barak. He insisted that its goals be the end of the conflict and a final settlement, rather than another interim agreement, which he deemed "dangerous to Israel," as long as the overall direction of the peace process and the PLO's final goals are not clarified.[1]

This ran contrary PA Chairman Arafat's position, as well as the recommendations of some of Barak's coalition members, such as Labor party Leader, Minister Haim Ramon, and former Education Minister and Meretz leader Yossi Sarid, who prefer the interim agreement track, which circumvents the problem of the PLO's final goals.[2]

Akram Haniya, an advisor to Arafat and editor of the PA daily Al-Ayyam, who participated in the summit, believes that "Barak convinced President Clinton that the PLO is so weak and desperately eager to achieve an independent Palestinian state, that it would be willing to moderate its final goals in exchange for formal recognition of their state by the US and a financial support package of billions of dollars."[3] The American negotiating team, claims Haniya, disregarded the Palestinian warnings that "[the Americans] are making a grave mistake [if they] believe that Arafat can sign an agreement that does not answer to their minimum national rights." According to Haniya, "It seems that the Americans and the Israelis jointly created an assessment according to which reaching a final settlement ending to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was possible…This assessment apparently stemmed from a lack of rational ability to understand the Palestinian reality…[it was] a strange mix of the arrogance of power, superciliousness, lack of professionalism, amateur political behavior, and a desperate attempt on the part of some in the American team for any political achievement, before the new American administration comes in. [In conclusion], this was just another repetition of typical American diplomatic folly in the Middle East."[4]

Barak also set an alternate objective for the summit: if a settlement is not reached, at least "the PLO's positions will be exposed. And consequently, unity will be achieved amongst the Israelis, who will now know – in case the Palestinians clash with Israel – that we tried everything we could to avoid it."[5]

Israeli Positions Unveiled at the Summit

Barak deviated – in an indirect and conditional fashion[6] – from some of his (and Israel's) long-standing ''red lines'' and softened some of his positions as follows:

  • He agreed to "divide Jerusalem," by transferring sovereignty in remote Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem to the PA. He also expressed readiness to consider – if the Palestinians endorsed this American proposal – the transfer of sovereignty in the Muslim and Christian quarters of the Old City, maintaining Israeli sovereignty on the Temple Mount, while assigning the Palestinians the status of Custodians of the Holy Places on the Temple Mount, and allotting a small site of the Temple Mount for Jewish prayers.[7]
  • He accepted the idea of transferring pre-67 Israeli territories to PA control in exchange for blocks of settlements in the territories to be annexed by Israel.
  • He accepted the concept of the humanitarian framework of family reunions, allowing some refugees to return to pre-67 Israel as well as the Palestinian state.[8]
  • He was prepared to withdraw from parts of the Jordan valley.[9]

PLO Positions Unveiled at the Summit

Contrary to prevailing convictions among Israeli political observers (as well as among others in the west,) during the summit the Palestinians revealed that their demands are not mere tactical positions, but rather non-negotiable strategic goals and principles.[10] These demands were:

  • The full implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 242 regarding Jerusalem,[11] namely: the demand for Palestinian sovereignty not only in Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem but also in the Old City, including the Temple Mount and the Western Wall. (Regarding the Western Wall, the Palestinians expressed willingness to discuss special arrangements in order to secure Jewish religious activities at this site.)[12]
  • The implementation of UN General Assembly Resolution 194, including the principle of Israel's responsibility for the Palestinian refugee problem and the right of all refugees to return if they wish.[13] According to PLO Executive Committee Chairman Abu Mazen, the Palestinian delegation opposed any limitation on the number of refugees allowed to return to Israel "even if they [the Israelis] offered us the return of three million refugees."[14] The refugee issue received limited media coverage compared to the Jerusalem issue. However, both Barak and Arafat emphasized that on this issue, too, the sides have reached an impasse. Barak himself noted that the Palestinians did not yield on the Palestinian right of return issue, which might prevent the sides from reaching an agreement to end the conflict.[15] In a Ramallah speech, on his return from the summit, Arafat emphasized that "the return of the refugees is sacred, and its sanctity is not less than that [assigned to] the holy places [in Jerusalem]."[16]

The Israeli and Palestinian positions and the gaps between these positions were revealed on two occasions. First, when the PLO rejected the American bridging proposals on July 13[17], Barak, in a letter to Clinton announcing his departure from Camp David, wrote: "much to my regret, I have concluded that the Palestinian side is not conducting negotiations in good faith and is not prepared to seriously discuss achieving a permanent peace between us, and therefore is not a peace partner."[18] The second took place on July 24[19], when Barak, responding to President Clinton about a new American bridging document, told the president that he would accept Palestinian sovereignty only over the Muslim and Christian quarters of the old city if Arafat also endorsed the proposal. Arafat formally rejected the document in writing.[20]

American Positions Unveiled at the Summit

During the summit, some US positions were revealed as well. These positions were:

  • The principle of compromise relates not only to the Israelis but also to the Palestinians, specifically regarding the post-1967 territories.[21]
  • The US does not endorse the Palestinian interpretation of UN Security Council Resolution 242.[22]
  • The US will reevaluate its relations with the Palestinians if they unilaterally declare a Palestinian state, including the possibility of relocating the American Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.[23]

*Yigal Carmon is President of MEMRI. Aluma Solnik is a Research Associate at MEMRI.

[1] Ha'aretz (Israel), July 31, 2000.

[2] In an interview on Israeli television, July 27, 2000, Minister Haim Ramon said that the idea that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict could be brought to an end was unrealistic, since the Palestinians cannot agree to it at this stage of their national experience. In an interview on Israeli radio, July 28, 2000, Knesset member Yossi Sarid said that he already told Barak a year ago that there was no chance for a permanent settlement with the Palestinians that includes Jerusalem, but "for some people [hinting at Barak's ambition], an interim agreement is too small a goal."

[3] PLO Executive Committee Chairman Abu Mazen stated that billions of dollars were offered to the Palestinians, but "we rejected these [offers] and said that our rights are not for sale." Al-Ayyam, July 30, 2000.

[4] Al-Ayyam, July 29, 2000.

[5] See Minister of Internal Security Shlomo Ben-Ami's interview with Ha'aretz, July 27, 2000.

[6] Barak not only explicitly conditioned Israeli concessions, but he also avoided any working meetings on the record with Arafat so that the Palestinian side did not document his positions, or be able to claim that Barak made binding commitments to him. Furthermore, Barak did not give any Israeli documents to the Palestinians. Rather his offers were presented as American ideas and it was Minister Ben-Ami who negotiated with Arafat. Yediot Aharonot (Israel), July 28, 2000 and Ha'aretz, July 27, 2000.

[7] According to PLC Speaker Abu 'Alaa, "The Israelis claimed that under the Mosques there is something that belongs to them. This means that in a few years they will tear down the Mosques. This is the most dangerous proposal." Al-Ayyam, July 30, 2000. Another reliable Palestinian source was surprised by this proposal, "which resembles the offer put forth by radical Israeli religious movements which call for the destruction of the Mosques and for building a new Temple [in their place]." Al-Hayat (London) July 31, 2000. PA Minister for International Planning and Cooperation Nabil Sha'ath argued that, "Israel demands control of the Temple Mount based on its claim that its fictitious temple stood there." Al-Ayyam, July 27, 2000. According to Minister Ben-Ami, PA negotiator Saeb 'Ereiqat also claimed that there is no proof that the Jewish temple was underneath the Temple Mount. Yediot Aharonot, July 28, 2000 and Ha'aretz, July 27, 2000.

[8] Ha'aretz July 14, 2000.

[9] The extent of territory that Barak was willing to transfer to the Palestinians was never accurately reported, according to different versions the percentage ranged from 85% to 94.5%.

[10] In view of these positions, it seems that the even more far-reaching Israeli compromises recommended by Columnist Uzi Benziman in Ha'aretz, July 28, 2000, following talks with government ministers, such as: "an additional effort of formulation and an enhanced, declarative generosity to the Palestinian right of return" – would not moderate the Palestinian position.

[11] According to Al-Quds (Palestinian), July 20, 2000, Arafat told Barak and Clinton that "the Arab leader willing to give up Jerusalem has not yet been born." According to Israel Television Channel 1, July 28, 2000, and Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), July 28, 2000, in a speech in Ramallah on his arrival from the summit, Arafat emphasized that the PLO's demand for sovereignty in Jerusalem "does not only refer to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Temple Mount Mosques, and the Armenian quarter, but it is Jerusalem in its entirety, entirety, entirety." PA Minister of Jerusalem Affairs Faisal Al-Husseini stated that the Palestinians never agreed to "the Israeli proposal to divide the Old City into neighborhoods." Al-Ayyam, August 2, 2000.

[12] During the negotiations, Arafat stressed that "The British Mandate administration stated as early as 1929 that the Western Wall is the Al-Buraq Wall [where, according to Muslim tradition, the prophet Muhammad landed on his night journey from Mecca to Jerusalem] and that it is considered a Muslim religious endowment [waqf] to which the Palestinians hold historic rights. Al-Hayat daily, July 27, 2000. Secretary-General of the PA Presidency, Al-Tayeb Abd Al-Rahim and PLC Speaker Abu 'Alaa also clarified that the Palestinians would be willing to discuss Israel's needs, such as travel arrangements to the Western Wall, and that they are willing to reach an agreement that takes such needs into consideration. However, according to Abu 'Alaa, "It is pointless to discuss [these] details before Israel recognizes Palestinian sovereignty in Jerusalem." Al-Quds, July 25, 2000 and Al-Ayyam, July 30, 2000.

[13] According to Nahum Barne'a in Yediot Aharonot, July 28, 2000, the Palestinians submitted extremist paperwork to the Refugee Bilateral Negotiating Committee "in which [they] drew parallels between Israel and Nazi Germany, [assigning both the same level of] injustice and use of similar methods of [reaching solutions]."

[14] Al-Ayyam, July 30, 2000.

[15] Israeli Radio, July 28, 2000, reported by Yoni Ben-Menahem.

[16] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, July 28, 2000. Also, see Arafat's comments in Al-Hayat, July 27, 2000.

[17] See Al-Quds headline, July 22, 2000: "Palestinians Refuse American Proposal." According to Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, July 13, 2000, and Al-Hayat, July 16, 2000: Israel's proposals regarding Jerusalem and the refugees upset Arafat and he threatened to leave Camp David. However, President Clinton retracted his proposals and a headline in Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, July 16, 2000 stated: "the Palestinian delegation rejects an American working paper."

[18] Yediot Aharonot and Ha'aretz, July 20, 2000.

[19] Ha'aretz, July 27, 2000.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Interview with Aaron Miller to Al-Quds, August 2, 2000.

[22] Akram Haniya, editor of Al-Ayyam and Arafat's close advisor, claimed that the US "shattered" UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 as a source of authority to the political process. Al-Ayyam, August 1, 2000.

[23] President Clinton also adopted an old Israeli claim for a link between the Palestinian refugees and the Jewish refugees from Arab countries in 1948, with a parallel need for compensation. Ha'aretz, July 30, 2000.

Part II: Reactions and Implications

Palestinian Assessment of the Summit and Next Steps

PLO Spokesmen present the Camp David Summit as a success in two respects:

  • PA Chairman Arafat's steadfastness and insistence on the nationalist principles, in the face of pressure that was "beyond human endurance"[1]
  • The breaking of Israeli red lines, which was seen as a sign of future Israeli concessions

The PA leadership sees the Camp David Summit as just one station[2] on a road of concessions that Israeli PM Barak has yet to make in a series of summits that they have contemplated from the beginning.[3] Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) Speaker Abu 'Alaa made it clear that "in order for an additional summit to be convened, the Israeli position must come closer to the Palestinian position, rather than the other way around, because the Palestinians are not the party that surrenders to pressure."[4] They want to resume the talks "from where they were left off," and demand that the conditional concessions made by Barak retain their validity.

Seeking to garner support immediately the summit,[5] Arafat launched an Arab and an international political campaign to gain backing for the application of UN Resolutions 242 and 194, and to convene an Arab or Islamic summit at the level of Foreign Ministers[6]. In the territories, too, a public campaign was launched to support Arafat's national principles. Additionally, the Palestinians want to resume the stalled interim-track negotiations in order to collect on what Israel still owes them under these agreements.

The statements made by high-ranking Palestinian leaders in the last few months regarding a "blood-bath," "war," or "violent clashes" erupting if negotiations fail, and the threats to "apply the lessons of Lebanon" in the territories have up till now proven to be empty.[7] The predictions that if the summit failed a spontaneous explosion would occur have not been realized, in great part because these events were never spontaneous, rather, they were a part of the PLO's crisis management tactics. PLO spokesmen, including Arafat himself, state that they "do not wish to clash with Israel,"[8] and as a result, there have not been any unusually violent events in the territories.

Similarly, in statements by high-ranking Palestinian officials, the date for the declaration of the independent Palestinian state has been postponed from September 13 to an unspecified date before the end of the year. (The way for this postponement was opened by the resolutions of the PLO Central Council three months ago.)

There are three primary reasons for the PLO's restraint:

  • The loss of American support and Clinton's direct threat that he would review all US relations with the PLO, in the case of a unilateral declaration of statehood
  • The open Israeli preparations for a massive mobilization of forces, including armor and air power against any Palestinian attempt to spark a violent conflict
  • The belief that the summit was, after all, at least in part successful, and that this success can be further enhanced through negotiations

Barak's Next Steps

Barak sees his proposals as the maximum possible Israeli concessions.[9] Furthermore, he insists that his proposals were conditional to begin with; therefore, after the Palestinian refusal, they are null and void, and will not serve as a starting point for future Palestinian demands.[10] Both in his letter to Clinton after the first Palestinian refusal and in his speeches after the refusal and the end of the summit, Barak stressed that now it is clear that "Arafat is not a partner." Nevertheless, practically speaking, Barak continues to see Arafat as a partner. "Within a few weeks," Barak said, "it will be possible to know if we are entering a [phase of] deep unrealized principle stubbornness on the part of the Palestinians, in which case we will be moving toward a situation of national emergency [a term used by Barak to indicate a coalition that would include right-wing parties] or the Palestinians moderate their positions, in which case there will be room for a renewed discussion."[11]

In view of the PLO's positions, Barak is not inclined to attend additional summits,. He also sees an additional interim agreement as "dangerous to Israel," which is why he does not intend to carry out the third redeployment, the target date of which was July 7. According to Barak, even the September 13 target date has "lost part of its importance."

Nevertheless, in view of the impasse, Barak may still consider an interim agreement, if it is long-term and includes a proposal, already raised at the Camp David Summit, to postpone the issues of Jerusalem, and maybe the Right of Return, for a long time. The PLO, needless to say, objects to such an agreement.[12]


Both in the negotiations with Syria and with the Palestinians, Barak followed the same strategy: He made a significant offer and was refused. This approach has earned him substantial achievements in the relationship with the United States, but did not bring about the internal unity Barak had hoped for. Elements of the right believe that he conceded too much, while elements of the left believe that he did not concede enough, or that he acted in a wrong and faulty way.

The Palestinians ignore Barak and Clinton's repeated statements that the offers were conditional and no longer valid, and see them as standing concessions that prove the inevitability of future erosion of Barak's remaining redlines.[13]

The gap between Israel's greatest concessions and the PLO's "national principles" is unbridgeable. Unless there is a fundamental change in the principles of one or both sides, a final settlement is impossible. Even if negotiations for an interim settlement begin, it is doubtful that an agreement can be reached because Barak would only grant Israeli recognition of an independent Palestinian state in exchange for a final settlement and an end to the conflict. Since the immediate Palestinian goal is the declaration of an independent state, the parties will again reach an impasse.

*Yigal Carmon is President of MEMRI. Aluma Solnik is a Research Associate at MEMRI.

[1] Chairman of the PLO Executive Committee, Abu Mazen in Al-Ayyam (PA) July 30, 2000.

[2] PA Minister for Planning and International Cooperation, Nabil Sha'ath in Al-Quds (Palestinian), July 27, 2000.

[3] Ha'aretz (Israel), July 11, 2000.

[4] Al-Ayyam, July 30, 2000.

[5] PLO Secretary of the Presidency Tayeb Abd Al-Rahim in Al-Ayyam, July 26, 2000.

[6] Abu 'Alaa, Al-Ayyam, July 30, 2000.

[7] Only a few PA officials and journalists continued with these threats after the summit. Fuad Abu Hijleh, columnist for Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), for example, threatened the west that "the Palestinian arm is much longer than the Americans believe, and in the Middle East with its oil, no more than a match is needed to bring the situation back to its point of departure, in which there is no American peace, no American supervision, over that comedy called negotiations." Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, July 30, 2000. PA Minister of Justice Freih Abu Middein also continued to threaten bloody clashes and a severe collapse throughout the Middle East, not limited to the Palestinians. Al-Ayyam, July 26, 2000.

[8] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, July 28, 2000. Secretary-General to the PA Presidency, Tayeb Abd Al-Rahim also said that the Palestinians are not interested in escalation and regional explosion. Al-Ayyam, July 26, 2000.

[9] In his speeches after he returned to Israel, Barak repeatedly asserted "there are three things no nation can give up: security, holy sites, and national unity." Ha'aretz, July 28, 2000.

[10] Ha'aretz, July 26, 2000.

[11] Ha'aretz, July 31, 2000 and also in a meeting of Labor Party Ministers in the government on July 28, 2000, Barak stated that "within a few weeks it will be known whether the Palestinians are heading towards confrontation," in which case he would establish an emergency government. Ha'aretz, July 29, 2000.

[12] PLO Executive Committee Chairman Abu Mazen in Al-Ayyam, July 23, 2000 and Yediot Ahronot (Israel), July 28, 2000.

[13] Abu Mazen, op-ed Al-Quds, July 26, 2000 and an interview with head of the Fatah Militia [Shabiba] Marwan Barghuthi in the Jerusalem Times (Palestinian English language weekly) July 21, 2000.

The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) is an independent, non-profit organization providing translations of the Arab media and original analysis and research on developments in the Middle East. Copies of articles and documents cited, as well as background information, are available upon request.

Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI)
Washington, DC 20006
Phone: (202) 955-9070
Fax: (202) 955-9077
E-mail: memri@erols.com
Website: www.memri.org

[MEMRI holds copyrights on all translations. Materials may only be cited with proper attribution.]

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