Camp David Projection, July 2000
Final status talks did not begin in earnest until early 2000. May talks in Eilat were followed by meetings in Stockholm and then, in June, high-level talks convened in Washington. Thus, after seven years of renegotiating minor territorial transfers, a hasty dash was made for a final deal - now due by 13 September 2000. These talks finally broached the core issues of refugees, Jerusalem, settlements, water and borders.
Rather than implement the third Oslo II redeployment, Barak opted to pin his precarious political existence on presenting the Israeli public with a final agreement before his Knesset coalition abandoned him. The erosion of his 73-seat (out of 120) majority began in September 1999 and by July 2000, he headed a divided Knesset minority, facing no-confidence motions. [i] Thus, the likelihood of his securing the necessary Knesset majority to ratify any final deal negotiated with the PA was slim if existent and widespread Israeli public opposition to his policies cast a serious doubt over his credibility and that of his negotiating positions. Meanwhile, US Pres. Clinton, hoping to crown his eight-year term (to end in January 2001) with a Middle East peace treaty, pressed the PA to drop its insistence on the overdue redeployment and joined Barak’s race against the political clock. [ii] Bent on achieving the breakthrough immediately, the US shunned Palestinian requests that progress be made in preparatory talks before any ‘make-or-break’ summit be held.
In announcing the 11 July 2000 convening of the Camp David Summit, Clinton promised the reluctant PA that, should the talks fail, “there will be no finger-pointing.” [iii] A day before the summit, Barak lost a no-confidence motion in the Knesset and so arrived at Camp David set to face elections at home, which he would almost certainly lose without popular gains at the negotiating table. [iv] The summit lasted 14 days and ended without agreement. During the whole period, Barak met Arafat alone only once.
Palestinian suffering in the interim period had been tempered by the prospect of the eventual implementation of UNSC Res. 242 and a just solution to the refugee problem, as outlined at the Madrid Conference and in the DoP. At Camp David, Israel finally confirmed its unwillingness to abide by - or even approach - these principles. Israel’s ‘best offer’ soon transpired to be yet another annexation plan based on legitimizing its permanent sovereignty over 10-13.5% of the West Bank, and maintaining its settlement and security presence in a further 8.5-12% for an unspecified interim period. [v] The remaining territory would be carved into at least three cantons, with settlement blocs, bypass roads and annexed Palestinian localities forming a barrier between the Nablus-Jenin area and Ramallah, and leaving Hebron and Bethlehem beyond an expanded Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty (see Map 47). The entire Jordan Rift would be retained for an unspecified ‘interim’ period and a corridor connecting the Hebron settlements would slice the Hebron canton in two from the south. [vi] Virtually all settlers were to remain and territorial provision was made for vast settlement expansion.
Israel refused to accept any responsibility for the refugee problem, suggesting an international fund be established to equally compensate both them and Jewish immigrants to Israel of the same period (thus perpetuating the ‘population-swap’ myth). [vii] Through the annexation of settlement blocs, Israel stood to legitimize its control over the major West Bank water resources; airspace was to remain in Israeli hands; the bifurcated Palestinian state was to be strictly demilitarized and Israel was to retain full control over all borders. In Jerusalem (see Map 47), Barak’s ‘offer’ left the Palestinians with a cluster of sovereign pockets in the outer suburbs amidst a hugely expanded Israeli ‘Greater Jerusalem.’ The Old City, with its holy places, was to be under Israeli sovereignty and Palestinians granted “local safe-passage” to Al-Haram Ash-Sharif. [viii]
In sum, nine years on from Madrid and the birth of the ‘land-for-peace’ process, Israel responded to the delayed crucial issues with an unequivocal, ‘No’ to refugees; ‘No’ to Jerusalem; ‘No’ to a return to 1967 borders; ‘No’ to removing Illegal settlements; and ‘No’ to Palestinian rights over natural resources. The offer, clearly unacceptable as it stood, was offered as a ‘now-or-never’ maximum by an Israeli PM who lacked domestic credibility and had already reneged on his Sharm Esh-Sheikh commitments. For Arafat the offer represented, “less than a Bantustan,” but the PA pleaded with Clinton to remain true to his “no finger-pointing” pledge and persuade Barak to consider the Camp David ideas a ‘taboo-breaking’ first in an ongoing process. [ix] But neither Clinton nor Barak stood to gain from inconclusive deals. As talks ended, on 25 July, Barak declared the Camp David positions “null and void,” and Clinton, at Barak’s request, not only openly blamed Arafat for the failure, but went on Israeli TV to praise Barak’s ‘vision and courage’. “In light of what has happened,” Clinton promised to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. [x]
The Palestinians were deeply disappointed by the US-Israeli tactics and relieved that their leadership had withstood the pressure after succumbing so frequently in the past. Arafat came home to a hero’s welcome, as Barak announced a “time-out” from the peace process. [xi]
[i] Barak’s lack of political experience and widely acknowledged tactlessness rather than his positions vis-à-vis the peace process were to blame for the largest desertions from his camp. His initial coalition drew on seven parties, ranging in ideology from the settler-affiliated National Religious Party (NRP) to the predominantly secular and ‘dovish’ Meretz Party. The first defection was made by United Torah Judaism (5 seats) in response to Barak’s refusal to cancel the transportation of an electric turbine on the Sabbath. Next, squabbles between the religious Shas Party and Meretz over education funds cost him another 10 seats (Meretz); and when Shas (17 seats) subsequently quit over the same issue, he was left heading a minority of 41. See, Barr, Patricia, Not a Referendum on Peace, Peace Now Information Paper, January 2001, website: www.peacenow.org.
[ii] The President’s wife, Hilary Clinton, was at the same time preparing for local elections in New York.
According to one source, Clinton referred to the thrust for a comprehensive (and historic) peace deal as his “personal journey of atonement,” in reference to his tarnished image in the wake of impeachment hearings relating to the Monica Lewinsky scandal (February 1999). Quandt, William, “Clinton and the Arab-Israeli Conflict: The Limits of Incrementalism,” Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. XXX, No. 2 (Winter 2001), pp. 26-40, p. 28.
[iii] Clinton to Arafat, quoted in Malley, Robert & Hussein Agha, “Camp David: Tragedy of Errors,” New York Review of Books, 9 August 2001, reproduced in Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. XXXI, No.1 (Autumn 2001), pp. 62-75, p. 68.
[iv] Barak had been forced to call for early elections prior to his departure. This had the effect of reducing the final status talks to a matter of make-or-break domestic Israeli politics, with Barak’s career hinging on his ability to produce a result that Israel’s Sharon-led 'hawks’ would not exploit to trounce him in the elections. As negotiator Yossi Beilin later admitted, “none of us was ready... there was no safety net.” Beilin, Yossi, (and others in roundtable discussion), “Taking Stock: Looking at the Past, Searching for the Future,” Palestine-Israel Journal, Vol. VIII, No. 3 (2001), pp. 25-42, p. 25.
[v] Contrary to Israeli-US claims at the time (later dropped) the Israeli offer was unspecific on most issues, incl. percentages of annexation. Again, the reduction of the West Bank total area by some 5.4% distorted figures and again no one official map was drawn up. See FMEP, Crossroads of Conflict: Israeli-Palestinian Relations Face an Uncertain Future - Special Report, Washington DC: FMEP, 2000. Also: Hanieh, Akram, “The Camp David Papers,” Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. XXX, No. 2 (Winter 2001), pp. 75-97, p. 82.
[vi] Talk of compensatory ‘land-swaps’ following Camp David was misleading. At Camp David, Israel made a maximum offer of giving the Palestinians an equivalent of 1% of (their reduced) West Bank land in an unspecified area and of unspecified quality. The formula of ‘land-swaps’ did not play a significant part at Camp David, but was broached in more detail at Taba in January 2001. Klug, Tony, “The Infernal Scapegoat,” Palestine-Israel Journal, Vol. VIII, No. 3 (2001), pp. 7-15, p. 9.
[vii] The international fund Israel suggested - and Clinton later endorsed - would have involved international money, but not Israel's, and would have compensated Palestinian refugees and ‘Jewish refugees’ (i.e., Jewish immigrants to Israel from the Arab World - whom Clinton later referred to as “refugees in their own land.”) Conditional on Palestinian acceptance of the absolution of Israeli responsibility or legal obligation, Barak agreed to play a part in a “humanitarian” program by screening candidates for possible “family reunification” in Israel - up to a maximum of 2% of all refugees. (This is a maximum figure. Israel, again without committing itself to specifics, agreed to the potential ‘absorption’ of refugees at the rate of a maximum of 10,000 per year and for a ten-year period only. Thus, of the five million refugees in 2000 - 3.7 million of whom were registered with UNRWA – Israel would accept only 2%.) Hanieh, The Camp David Papers, p. 82; PASSIA, Special Bulletin on Palestinian Refugees, p. 2.
Clinton, justifying the compensation fund on Israeli TV, 28 July 2001, quoted in “Peace Monitor,” Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. XXX, No. 1 (Autumn 2000), pp. 116-135, p. 121.
[viii] FMEP, Crossroads of Conflict, p. 7.
[ix] Nabil Sha’ath asked Clinton at the end of the summit, “Please do not put on a sad face and tell the world it failed. Please say we broke down taboos, dealt with the heart of the matter and will continue.”
Sha’ath, quoted in Sontag, Deborah, “Quest for Middle East Peace: How and Why it Failed,” New York Times, 26 July 2001, reproduced in Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. XXXI, No. 1 (Autumn 2001), pp. 75-85, pp. 82-3.
[x] “Peace Monitor,” Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. XXX, No. 1 (Autumn 2000), pp. 116-135, pp. 120-121.
[xi] The pressure tactics of Camp David have been surmised by British academic Tony Klug: “In effect, the most powerful country in the world teamed up with the most powerful country in the region to induce one of the weakest non-states anywhere to accept a sequence of half-baked proposals, with a threat of sanctions if they did not comply.” Klug, “The Infernal Scapegoat,” p. 9; Barak, quoted in FMEP, Report on Israeli Settlement, November-December 2000, p. 2.