July, 30 2001
In recent days, a strenuous effort has been made to demonstrate that Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat should not bear the brunt of the blame for the failure of the Camp David summit a year ago, and that the possibility of a comprehensive Israeli-Palestinian agreement remains tantalizingly close.
These revisionist accounts may indeed reveal a more nuanced view of the negotiations surrounding Camp David, but they tend to obscure some larger truths about the current conflict.
Prominent articles in The Washington Post, The New York Times, and The New York Review of Books all purport to reveal that the widespread impression that Arafat rejected a generous offer by prime minister Ehud Barak is not correct. Yet a careful reading of these accounts does as much to confirm the conventional wisdom as it does to refute it.
Deborah Sontag's account in The New York Times, for example, does not challenge a statement by Arafat that the state Israel offered was "less than a Bantustan." Yet she also quotes Arafat saying that Israel offered to "keep 10 percent of [the West Bank] for settlements and roads and Israeli forces." If so, this means that Israel was offering 90 percent of the territories for a Palestinian state, not including a "land swap" that would grant the Palestinians additional territory from within Israel proper.
The Camp David revisionists confirm, rather than deny, that Israel was proposing relatively minor and mutual modifications to the 1967 lines, including within Jerusalem itself. But even more damning for the "share the blame" school, the revisionists confirm that the Palestinians did not dignify the radical Israeli proposals with a counteroffer of their own.
Sontag quotes the admission of Rob Malley, a former Clinton National Security Council staffer who was at Camp David and is now leading the revisionist charge, that the American mediators were "frustrated almost to the point of despair by the Palestinians' passivity and inability to seize the moment." She also notes that Palestinian negotiator Ahmed Qurei said that he told Shlomo Ben-Ami that "I cannot look at the maps. Close them." Regarding Clinton, who angrily blamed Qurei for the failure of the summit, Qurei reports, "I told him even if the occupation continues 500 years, we will not change."
The revisionists claim that it was clever Israeli spinning, not substance, that produced the impression of flexible Israelis opposite intransigent Palestinians. But the supposed spinning is itself relevant. The contrast could not be plainer. At the same time as the Israeli team was slyly hinting at the concessions it was willing to make, in order to prepare the public back home, the Palestinian team was busy taking pride in its intransigence. As Palestinian negotiator Nabil Shaath explained to Sontag, Arafat "rode home on a white horse" because he was perceived as having withstood incredible pressure from the US and Israel.
In any case, what convinces so many Israelis that it is not possible to strike a comprehensive deal with Arafat - including Ehud Barak and Ben-Ami - is not so much what happened at the negotiating table as the Palestinian decision to return to violence and terrorism. Even if the revisionists succeed in making their case, all they have shown is that Palestinians' post-Camp David offensive is not an attempt to destroy Israel, but to negotiate a better deal. But what does the resort to terrorism - even for the purpose of negotiation - say about how Israel should act now?
There is no dispute that the Palestinians have returned to terror on a tactical basis; the only dispute is over the strategy this terror serves: improving a "pragmatic" deal or eliminating Israel entirely (either by sparking regional war or by slower demographic means). Yet from an Israeli point of view, this strategic dichotomy is both irrelevant and false. It is irrelevant because in either case, the Palestinian return to terror must be decisively defeated, by a combination of military and diplomatic means. It is false because the choice of Palestinian/Arab strategy is not fixed, but highly dependent on the resolve shown by Israel and the degree to which fellow Western democracies will support Israel's right to self defense.
Sontag's article concludes with the revisionist credo, as stated succinctly by Gilead Sher, "I still think that peace is doable, feasible, and reasonable... the tragedy is that the basis of the agreement is lying there in arm's reach." The tragedy, however, is not missing the opportunity to reach "peace in our time," a "peace" based on Israeli appeasement and defeat. The tragedy is the failure of the "peace camp" to recognize that only when the Palestinians' choice of the "military option" is defeated and discredited will it be possible to negotiate anything, let alone a peace that will stick.
©2001 - Jerusalem Post