Arafat’s Rejection of Camp David
January 01, 2005
[First published in November 2004]
Last week, the world mourned the loss of Yasser Arafat.� For many, he personified the struggle against oppression not only of the Palestinian people, but of oppressed millions around the globe.� But for others he was a terrorist, even when he denounced terrorism and recognized Israel's right to exist, as he did when he signed the Oslo Accords in September 1993.
Thus, at his funeral in Cairo, Israel sent no representative at all and the U.S. sent merely an assistant secretary of state while other countries sent foreign ministers, prime ministers, presidents, princes and kings. �
For the past two years, the "road map" to peace developed by the Bush administration had been put aside, because the U.S. did not want to deal with Arafat.� Ever since he rejected the Camp David accords in 2000, suspicion about his motives had been rampant in Washington and Tel Aviv.� From then on, he was known as the man in uniform who single-handedly killed the peace process. �
Did Arafat commit a blunder at Camp David?� The creation of a Palestinian state would have been the crowning achievement of his career, so how could he have let that slip away? �
A myth has grown about the generosity of the offer that was made to him by Ehud Barak, then the prime minister of Israel. It supposedly contained more concessions than any previous Israeli leader had ever offered the Palestinians.� But how generous was that offer? �
Contrary to characterizations in the media, Barak did not offer to give up 96 percent of the West Bank. Rather, he offered Arafat a dysfunctional state that would have consisted of� five cantons--four in the West Bank and one in the Gaza Strip.� According to an Israeli peace group, Gush Shalom, the state would have consisted of two million Palestinians living in 200 scattered areas around the West Bank, consolidated into three cantons. The Israeli army would have controlled the eastern border, the Jordan Valley. A fourth canton would have been created around East Jerusalem but the al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest shrine in Islam, would have remained under Israeli control.
Robert Malley, a member of the American team at Camp David, wrote in the New York Review of Books that no Palestinian leader could have justified a compromise of this magnitude to his people. �
In the Barak proposal, Israel would have annexed 69 of the Jewish settlements in the West Bank, containing 85 percent of the 200,000 Israeli settlers still living in the West Bank--a violation of the 1993 Oslo Accords. The settlement blocs would have continued to intrude into the existing road network, severely disrupting Palestinian traffic in the West Bank.
To compensate the Palestinians for the loss of prime agricultural land, representing about 9 percent of the West Bank, Israel offered stretches of desert adjacent to the Gaza Strip that it currently uses to dump toxic wastes.
The Palestinian state designed at Camp David would have resembled the Bantustans of South Africa under apartheid. Arafat may have been an inept administrator but when he signed the Oslo Accords, he accepted Israel's right to exist and conceded to Israel 78 percent of historic Palestine.
In February 2002, Arafat wrote in the New York Times that Palestinians were ready to end the conflict, and to sit down with the Israelis to discuss peace.� "But we will only sit down as equals," he said, "not as supplicants; as partners, not as subjects; not as a defeated nation grateful for whatever scraps are thrown our way."� The Camp David plan was one such scrap, and no Palestinian leader--even one who had won the Noble Peace Prize in 1994--could accept it.
No one can doubt Arafat's devotion to the Palestinian cause.� He married very late in life for that reason.� Back in March 1972, Italian journalist Oriana Fallachi asked him whether he wanted to be like Ho Chi Minh, or whether the idea of living with a woman at his side was repugnant to him.� Arafat replied, "Ho Chi Minh...No, let's say that I've never found the right woman.� And now there's no more time.� I've married a woman called Palestine." �
By rejecting Camp David, he prevented a blunder from being committed.� It is unfortunate that during the first Bush administration, the U.S. adopted a very pro-Israeli tilt.� When Ariel Sharon visited the White House, after having re-occupied the West Bank militarily, he was greeted by Bush as a "man of peace." With Sharon at his side, Bush blamed the violence on Yasser Arafat, saying he "had let his people down," ignoring Israel's failure to comply with U.S. demands to withdraw immediately from the West Bank and to allow U.N. inspectors into the battle-ravaged refugee camp of Jenin.
The American Congress did no better. After Sharon's chief rival, Benjamin Netanyahu, visited Capitol Hill and talked about Israel's war against Palestinian terror, Congress overwhelmingly passed resolutions supporting Israel, further rousing Arab and Muslim ire against the U.S.
When U.S. President George W. Bush traveled to the Middle East in 2003, he personally pledged to work for an independent Palestinian state by 2005.� Commenting on the death of Yasser Arafat, British Prime Minister Tony Blair said, "Peace in the Middle East must be the international community's highest priority," stressing that the goal of "a viable Palestinian state alongside a secure Israel is one that we must continue to work tirelessly to achieve."
However, in his subsequent meeting with Bush at the White House, peace between Israel and the Palestinians became the third international priority, after Iraq and Afghanistan.� The emphasis shifted to bringing democracy and the rule of law in the Palestinian territories rather than bringing peace to the Israelis and Palestinians.
With Arafat out of the picture, President Bush has a historic chance for coming up with a new peace plan, based on the principles enshrined in the Oslo Accords.� It is time for Palestinians to unite behind a new leadership and stop the campaign of terror and suicide bombings that has caused them and innocent Israelis immense harm.� And it is time for a brave new Israeli leadership to step forward and to greet the Palestinian people with the warm words of Yitzhak Rabin, spoke, on the White House lawn in 1993, "We wish to open a new chapter in the sad book of our lives together--a chapter of mutual recognition, of good neighborliness, of mutual respect, of understanding.� We hope to embark on a new era in the history of the Middle East."