July/August 2000
Camp David II

Mid-East Irony: Yasser As Jewish State's "Savior"


THE ultimate irony of the collapse of the Camp David summit is that Yasser Arafat ended up saving Israel from a disaster.

In rejecting the most far-reaching offer of territorial concessions ever made by an Israeli leader, Arafat did more than pass up an historic opportunity that likely - and hopefully - will never come his way again. He's also made it necessary to ask whether the Palestinians truly mean to reach a serious, lasting peace.

Make no mistake: This was more than a sweetheart deal for the PLO leader. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, by all reports, went far beyond what even Israel's doves thought he'd offer.

More disturbingly, he patently abandoned the very "red lines" - most prominently, Jerusalem would remain undivided - he promised Israelis he'd abide by before leaving for Camp David.

It was the Israeli equivalent of President Bush violating his "read my lips" pledge, though whether Barak pays the same political price remains to be seen.

Yet even this was not enough for Arafat, who refused to budge from his all-or-nothing position.

Genuine peace is impossible without painful Israeli concessions - and Israel has made them time and time again since 1993. But there is a point at which Palestinian intransigence has to be met with something other than more and more appeasement.

The danger of reversing course on the 33-year-old pledge by every Israeli leader, left and right alike, that Jerusalem would remain undivided under Israeli sovereignty was made clear the other night by former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

"A nation does not hand over its capital and does not divide it," Netanyahu said in a nationally broadcast speech. For, as he added pointedly, "A man who can divide Jerusalem will end up also dividing other cities."

Some suggest that Netanyahu and the rest of Israel's right wing bear a measure of blame. Ever since the original Oslo Accords were signed in 1993, it's been argued, the Israeli right has never clearly articulated its vision of what sort of peace agreement it envisioned.

The complaint goes like this: Leaders like Netanyahu, Ariel Sharon and others have spoken only in the language of rejection, without offering an alternative. And, like the boy crying wolf, they constantly warn that any agreement with Arafat will lead to Israel's extinction.

But in the wake of Camp David's failure, the language of rejection suddenly emerges as the language of pragmatism and realistic thinking. No matter how many times Arafat and President Clinton talk of the "peace of the brave," it won't be accomplished by words and smiles alone.

After all, it was the pessimists who in 1993 argued against the utopian belief that peace was just around the corner, warning after the Rose Garden ceremonies that Arafat could not be trusted to make peace.

Now Arafat has proved intransigent over much more than Jerusalem: He refused to reach even a partial agreement in which he would pledge an "end to the conflict" and an end to Palestinian claims against Israel.

In other words, Israel was almost ready to sign away virtually all its entire negotiating assets without a clear indication about what kind of peace Arafat envisions - or even if he envisions one at all.

At the White House seven years ago, Arafat pledged himself to "peaceful coexistence, free from violence." Yet violence - both explicit and implicit - remains a critical weapon in his diplomatic arsenal. Clinton plainly believes those threats - why else his expressed fears of renewed fighting as the reason why the summit had to succeed?

Those who insist the PLO has renounced its "phased plan" - in which a state is proclaimed on a small part of "liberated Palestine" while the fight to conquer it all continues - will have to explain why Arafat refuses to declare an end to Palestinian claims against the Jewish state.

Arafat no doubt was emboldened by the willingness of Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres and Barak to turn a blind eye toward repeated Palestinian violations of previous accords and agreements. Indeed, when Netanyahu - alone among Israeli leaders since Oslo - demanded true reciprocity and insisted that Arafat keep his word, Clinton very publicly clipped his wings.

At Camp David, Arafat clearly believed that Barak - his government coalition in a shambles and his once-solid majority in the polls disintegrated - was so desperate for an agreement that he would agree to anything. And Arafat was almost right.

Ultimately, Arafat overplayed his hand. Or, if the cynics are to be believed, he got exactly the result he wanted - no agreement at all.

Either way, Arafat accomplished something extremely important at Camp David. He proved the pessimists were right all along.

e-mail: efettmann@nypost.com

© New York Post 2000

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