July/August 2000
Camp David II

Barak Trapped Himself

By Abe Rosenthal

Ehud Barak walked away from Camp David with kind words from President Clinton. Yasser Arafat left with new Israeli gifts that would give him about 90% of the land he is demanding for the moment, plus frontiers that endanger his major neighbors, Israel and Jordan, and one day will be able to link the Iraq-Palestine axis physically.

Other gifts include the destruction of the security value of remaining West Bank Israeli settlements and, oh yes - the beginning of the dismantling of a united Jerusalem, which Barak and every other Israeli leader had sworn would never, never be divided.

In an acidic demonstration of contempt for Israeli diplomacy, Arafat turned down the latest cornucopia of gifts Barak came carrying to pay for peace; it was not enough. So the meeting was over, leaving the President and Barak looking terribly hurt and startled.

Barak carries the responsibility; Clinton is not his nanny. The Israeli prime minister and his team fell into a trap any embassy second secretary would have avoided: spreading out your final-settlement offerings before the opponent has given an idea of what he might pay for them. That means that Barak made his concessions free, which turned them into gifts. Of course, he says the Arafat refusal to accept wording of the Jerusalem concessions makes the whole package null and void.

But from outstanding moderate Israeli conservatives like Zalman Shoval, former Israeli ambassador in Washington, to American supporters of Barak and Israeli Labor, I found no one who did not understand that at the new talks the Palestinians and Israelis are already planning, Arafat will make the new Israeli offers the floor, not the ceiling, of Palestinian demands. His top aides say so, I assume concealing their grins.

So Camp David should not seem a total loss to his country, the chief spokesman for Israel reveals that the tone of the talks was civilized; that's nice. But what neither he nor any other Israeli can reveal is whether Barak has so damaged himself as a caretaker of Israeli interests that he will not be able to represent Israel more effectively at a new round, or at all.

There was no great mystery about Palestinian strategy at Camp David. That is the way Palestinian and other national movements operate - building on one retreat by the enemy to create another. What is something of a mystery is that after more than a half-century of struggle with the Palestinians, so many Israelis - and so many of their foreign friends - simply refuse to look at Israeli-Palestinian reality.

It is that for most of the years of that struggle, the governments and religious and elite leadership of the Arab states would not even talk of peace with Israel. They preferred war. The creation of Israel in 1948 could have peacefully created an independent Palestine, which never had existed. The Jews accepted the UN partition plan; the Arabs chose to reject it and opt for unending war.

From then on, the only way the Israeli nation and people could satisfy Arab rulers and religious chiefs was to die, quickly. But military war against the Jews by the combined Arab forces failed. In 1967, an attack by combined Arab forces cost their nations the West Bank and the Jordan-occupied parts of Jerusalem, neither of which had been the property of the nonexistent Palestine.

Decades of world economic boycott also failed, not because the world suddenly loved Israelis, but because they did not work as Arabs did, enchained by medieval monarchies and economies. The Arabs used the weapon of mind poison. Around the world they spread, and still do, the most concerted anti-Jewish campaign since the Nazis. And to all Muslims they spread the message about Palestinians with which King Hussein of Jordan had blessed Saddam Hussein's forces - they are fighting for all Islam.

When all other forms of warfare failed to persuade Israel to go kill itself, Arab nations tested other techniques - like the suspension of formal warfare for terrorism against Israel and its supporters. Then came the current phase - accepting the concept of peace, kind of, and sometimes even agreeing to a perversion of it: peace in name, continued terrorism and mind poison in practice.

Many Israelis and foreigners believe that by now, desire for peace will persuade Israelis and Palestinians to cultivate their own rose gardens in peace and harmony. I remember with some sympathy the furious Arab at an international conference shouting the Jews would just grow more roses in the same damned space.

Real peace will not come until enough democratic governments replace the regimes of the Arab despots and mind poisoners. The U.S. should say so and act so. That will take a long time, but not as long as trying to achieve a sound peace by giving away land, security and principle.

Kansas City Star - July 29, 2000 No need to guess why Arafat is smiling these days By William Safire
Washington-Three pictures on the front of The New York Times told the Camp David story: Ehud Barak stunned and dismayed, Bill Clinton shattered-and Yasser Arafat grinning broadly. Why? Because Arafat gave up nothing. But Israel's leader, pushed by a U.S. president, made concessions that broke pledges Barak made in his election campaign a year ago.

He offered Arafat virtually all the West Bank, including the vital Jordan Valley, requiring the uprooting of 40,000 Israeli settlers. He offered what amounts to right of return of thousands of Palestinians to Israel, backed up by a reported huge commitment by Clinton to pay Palestinians around the world to not return. And most unthinkable only a year ago, he offered to share sovereignty with a new Palestinian state in portions of Jerusalem.

Not enough, smiled Arafat. He went home to the cheers of intransigent Palestinians in Gaza and the praise of Egypt's unyielding Hosni Mubarak (whose regime we have propped up with $50 billion in aid since Jimmy Carter' s Camp David.) Arabs are delighted at the one-way flow of concessions because they now see Jerusalem "in play." Though Clinton absolves Barak and himself from the failure of these negotiations, his desperation for a deal in time for our November election was at the root of the fiasco.

Because Barak, under pressure, gave away too much too soon, nothing was left as a deal-closer. Palestinian statehood ceased to be an Israeli bargaining chip two years ago when first lady Hillary Clinton, on global TV, nine times embraced a Palestinian state. The salami-slice turnover of West Bank land before final-status talks was supposed to engender trust, but it only whetted Palestinian appetites; by the time Barak reached Camp David it was common knowledge that he intended to yield nearly all the land Arafat claimed.

With statehood and all the land already in his pocket; with heavy money from America promised for himself and for Palestinians abroad; and with the Israelis and Americans tacitly winking at his 40,000 armed troops as a "police force," what incentive did Arafat have to drop his demands for Jerusalem as his capital.

In his eyes, no incentive at all. On the contrary, he had every reason to hang tough and await more concessions. What many of us long thought to be in the cards-a Palestinian capital in a village that was a Jerusalem suburb, which Palestinians were free to call Jerusalem-was now a compromise Arafat could dismiss. Mubarak, the Saudis and his own militant followers could sense the momentum going his way.

At that point, Barak realized he was conceding too much for Israeli voters to bear. Certainly he would lose a referendum that called for Israel's loss of control of its capital. So as the summit broke up, he labeled all his concessions "invalid."

But to Arafat, they are valid forever. Once laid on the table, they cannot so easily be snatched back. Just as Syria's Hafez al-Assad demanded that tentative Israeli concessions be the starting point of renewed negotiations, Arafat will insist on the same. Thus has Clinton's unwise summit gamble raised unreasonable Arab expectations and has moved the center of gravity of an ultimate settlement away from Israel's security interests.

You have to sympathize with Barak, a good man learning diplomacy the hardest way. Through Clinton, he offered Assad all the Golan Heights, only to be rebuffed. He offered Arafat virtually all the West Bank and was scorned again. Land for peace? The land Arab leaders want is the land of Israel.

Barak returned home as Arik Sharon, leader of the opposition Likud, called for early elections. "I do not foresee a possibility for a unity government," Sharon tells me, "because we will never accept the partition of Jerusalem. I'm running." If a trumped up case against Bibi Netanyahu is dropped, that comeback kid will compete for the nomination. Natan Sharansky will be an election factor.

A nonpolitical old friend in Israel's still-undivided capital (where the U.S. Embassy ought to be relocated now) says: "The summit's only benefit to Israel was that it made clear to the world who wants peace and who does not." In time, an Israeli unburdened with Barak's concessions will find a Palestinian interlocutor who wants peace, too.

© 2000 New York Daily News

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