Mideastweb: Middle East

mvbanner.gif (4552 bytes)

Home.gif (161 bytes)What is at MidEast Web
heb_but.gif (177 bytes)
contact.gif (179 bytes) about.gif (210 bytes) helpus.gif (185 bytes)
Guide Lines(202 bytes)
A Better Middle East

linkbut.gif (167 bytes) Middle East Peace Process News
dialogbut.gif (172 bytes)
Middle East Peace Education
Maps.gif (167 bytes)
history.gif (180 bytes)
poetbut.gif (992 bytes)
The arts f  
    un.gif (146 bytes) How to use the Web for your organization

Middle East news contact top stories books history culture dialog links Encyclopedia donations

PeaceWatch  MidEast Web News Top Stories Bibliography 
Oslo Peace Process: Camp David Proposals Commentary II Commentary III  Broken Lives Fatal Error?

The End of the Oslo Peace Process - Commentary I

September 25, 2001
The Infernal Scapegoat

Tony Klug

FOREWORD: A major impediment to future peace-making between Israelis and Palestinians is the widespread belief among Israelis that the Palestinians have already violently rejected the opportunity to establish their own independent state alongside Israel. In the light of this, it follows that demands to end the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip and back a two-state solution are either naive or disingenuous, and cannot be taken seriously. This view holds that Yasser Arafat's alleged repudiation of Ehud Barak's 'generous offer' at the Camp David summit in July 2000, coupled with his apparently uncompromising affirmation of the 'right of return', unmasked his true and unchanged intention to liquidate the Israeli state. Many erstwhile supporters of the Israeli peace camp felt betrayed and duped and have joined the chorus of vengeance that has swept the land. Once again, there is a mood in Israel of 'no alternative'. The besiegers feel besieged. However, it is increasingly becoming clear that the simple Israeli view of events at Camp David and the popular Israeli interpretation of them are at variance with the truth. It is of the utmost importance for the destinies of the two peoples that the record is set straight and the myths debunked so that a path may be cleared for a future peace initiative. This article - to be published in the 'Palestine-Israel Journal', October/November 2001- is offered as a contribution to this vital process.


The scapegoat is a recurring theme of Jewish history. In biblical times, it was a real goat upon which the Jewish high priest cast all the sins of the people. In exile, it was frequently the Jews themselves, denounced and vilified for the misdeeds of others. Now it is the turn of Yasser Arafat, the Jewish state's erstwhile partner for peace and currently its supreme villain.

In the wake of the collapse of the Camp David Summit in July 2000, the finger of blame was instantly pointed at the Palestinian President, charging him with wilful sabotage of the peace process by repudiating Ehud Barak's 'generous offer', by indirectly espousing the liquidation of the Jewish state and then by launching a violent uprising to this end. He has been reviled as an unrepentant terrorist and an inveterate liar, who could no longer suppress his true aims. Even US President Clinton and many self-proclaimed supporters of the Israeli peace camp - nursing a deep sense of trust betrayed - joined the orgy of defamation.

The accusations leveled against scapegoats are invariably false, and this case appears to be no exception. But this is by the way. The point of the scapegoat is to allow the finger-pointers to escape their share of responsibility and thereby the need to reflect on their own deficiencies. If Barak's obsessive quest for absolution meant drowning the aspirations of his nation, so be it. Being right is more important than achieving peace. However, especially now, these are dangerous indulgences. It is vital that Israeli society swiftly emerges from its shell-shock, lets go of its righteous indignation and starts critically to examine its own part and that of its political leaders in fomenting the current crisis.

What happened at Camp David - and the conclusions to be drawn - matter enormously and is the primary focus of this article. But it is not the key to what went wrong. Rather, it was the culmination of a flawed process, pervaded by deep-seated misconceptions and self-delusions, particularly but not exclusively on Israel's part. This aspect will be discussed later in the article.

The precise details of what was offered by whom at what point during the two-week summit cannot be stated with certainty as, in the absence of an official record, there appear to be almost as many versions as participants. As regards the big picture, however, it is more than clear that the widespread perception in Israel of what transpired there is essentially false. This has already had dire consequences. Drawing on a spread of published and unpublished papers, reports and commentaries, among the salient points missing from or misrepresented by the mainstream Israeli narrative are the following:

First, the Palestinians maintained from the outset that a summit was premature and therefore likely to fail. Prophetically, they feared the blame would fall on them. They argued that more preparatory work was needed in several complicated areas which had been left to the 'final basket' precisely because of their complexity and sensitivity.

Against this, Prime Minister Barak was a man in a hurry. The veteran military commander in him wanted quick results on the Palestinian track, having failed to wrap up a deal with Syria. Facing the imminent collapse of what remained of his year-old coalition government, the novice political leader in him imprudently staked his new career on swiftly securing an all-encompassing final peace package with the Palestinians, to embrace a mutual renunciation of any and all further claims, including those of the 1948 refugees which lay at the heart of the conflict. But Arafat had no mandate or authority to relinquish, just like that, the decades-old claims on their behalf. It would have been a gross act of betrayal and, had he succumbed, he would simply have dealt himself out of the picture, or worse.

By forcing the pace, Barak burdened the meeting with an almost impossible task and unnecessarily put at risk the entire peace enterprise.

Secondly, Barak's negotiating method has been compared to that of an emperor dispensing gifts. Few have doubted the sincerity of his intentions, but his manner of pulling offers from under the table, as if they were rabbits out of a hat, meant that his interlocutors were unprepared with concrete responses. In combination with an allegedly arrogant take-it-or-leave-it, all-or-nothing style, it suggested a basic lack of respect for his negotiating partners - a sure recipe for failure.

Thirdly, the 'generous offer' supposedly made at Camp David by Barak appears to be a fiction. The widespread impression, still holy writ in Israel and the Jewish world, is that the Palestinians were offered a self-contained state in virtually the whole of the West Bank and Gaza Strip; that in exchange for Israel incorporating between three and five per cent of the West Bank to accommodate the bulk of the settler population, an equivalent area of the Jewish state would be ceded to the Palestinian state.

Israeli bewilderment at the apparently abrupt rejection of such an offer, had it actually been made, would indeed have been justified. But all the expert accounts agree, notwithstanding the differences of detail, that the Israeli proposal in fact involved substantial annexation of West Bank territory, ranging from 9% to 13.5%, with a maximum of 1% land compensation. In addition, a sizeable portion of the Jordan Valley, as well as all international borders, would remain under Israeli control in some form. So too would the water below and the skies above. The remainder of the West Bank, already physically separate from the Gaza Strip, would be effectively divided into three or four barely connected or unconnected entities.

Whether through greed, dogma or foolishness, by advancing such a derisory proposal in the final stretch of a seven-year negotiating marathon, Israel forsook a unique opportunity to achieve a mutually honorable settlement. Moreover, it may be assumed that Barak was aware of the proposal's serious deficiencies, for why else would he later try to dupe the public into believing he had made a materially different offer?

Fourthly, while Barak displayed genuine courage in challenging the taboo about negotiating over Jerusalem, and indeed by making far-reaching proposals from an Israeli perspective, he needlessly alarmed the Palestinians by raising the spectre of radical change to the status quo on the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif. His suggestions that Jews be allowed to pray there (despite a long-standing orthodox Jewish edict forbidding this) and that a synagogue be constructed (the first for some 2,000 years) were vehemently opposed and the synagogue idea was reportedly then dropped.

Fifthly, the public verdict of Bill Clinton following the collapse of the summit about the bravery of Barak and the culpability of Arafat was not the judgement of an honest broker. The administration itself has since publicly disclosed that all proposals put forward by the US were coordinated in advance with the Israeli delegation. 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 it did not comply. Revealingly, it has since been divulged that in private Clinton voiced strong criticism of aspects of Barak's negotiating technique.

Sixthly, it is not the case that Arafat simply refused to negotiate. Expert opinion is divided on the extent to which the Palestinians responded at Camp David to US/Israel's proposals with counter-proposals, but certainly the negotiations continued (in Jerusalem) for some months after the break-up of the summit in a less-frenzied, mostly clandestine, fashion. Following the disclosure of Clinton's own 'parameters' for a settlement towards the end of the year - which both sides claimed to accept with reservations - negotiations resumed again in January 2001 at the Egyptian resort of Taba. There, according to reports from both sides, the differences narrowed considerably on every issue to such an extent that a comprehensive agreement may have been feasible with a little more time. However, the Intifada was well under way by then and Barak was about to be trounced in the Israeli election by the notoriously hawkish Sharon, whose earlier incursion into the Temple Mount compound, accompanied by several hundred armed guards, had helped spark the uprising.

Territorially, the basis for deadlock at Camp David was essentially no different from the one that had scuppered previous efforts: the starting point for the Palestinians was the status quo in the early morning of 5 June 1967 whereas for the Israelis it was the situation six days later. It was the difference between 'occupied' territories and 'disputed' territories.

The occupied territories, for the Palestinians, were where they would build their scaled-down state. This was their great historical compromise. It meant formally relinquishing to Israel 78% of the land they had previously claimed. Any encroachment on the remaining 22% would be regarded as plunder. Mutually agreed land exchanges - a legitimate subject for negotiation - were acceptable provided this did not diminish their overall share.

It follows that what may appear as a magnanimous territorial concession in Israeli eyes becomes, in Palestinian eyes, a flagrant erosion of an unequivocal right. It may be argued that the alleged inflexibility of the Palestinians at Camp David was less the cause of the deadlock than mistaken assessments by the Israeli and US delegations of the vital Palestinian sticking points, and their consequent illusions about what realistically was open for negotiation.

Now it is Israel's turn to confront its great historical dilemma. It can have the spoils of war or the fruits of peace. It assuredly cannot achieve both. It appears that the Israeli negotiators at Taba finally recognized this. What remains of the old Israeli peace camp has also embraced this view. Other sectors of the Israeli population will surely follow over time. But there are major psychological and practical obstacles still to overcome.

At the psychological level, progress will be hard to achieve for as long as the negotiators do not regard or treat each other as equal partners or view their two peoples as having equivalent rights. More than 30 years of one people occupying another has inevitably given rise to an essentially colonial mentality on the part of the occupier towards the occupied. At first sight this may appear to be contradicted by the Oslo principles with their fine sentiments of "peaceful co-existence", "mutual dignity and security", "historic reconciliation" and "a spirit of peace". But in reality the terms of the accords were inherently unequal, and the methods of implementation not just cumbersome but patronizing and humiliating.

This was probably best symbolized by the system of drip-feeding rewards to the Palestinians as long as they proved, and kept on proving, they could be trusted. This one-way accountability assumed that one of the parties did not have the natural right to run their own lives on their own territory, but had to earn it incrementally from the other. Far from this enhancing mutual dignity and creating trust, it predictably fostered suspicion, contempt and even hatred, driven ever deeper during the three short-sighted and mean-spirited Netanyahu years. As if this were not enough, the long drawn-out timetable for the mini-withdrawals was, unsurprisingly, exploited by both sides' saboteurs, whose deathly art fatally undermined almost everyone's faith in the process.

The paramount need was for the Palestinians to have their own state and this should have been the primary aim. Its realization would effectively have removed the ever-present threats of curfews, closures and other Israeli sanctions on the one hand and violent Palestinian resistance to the occupation on the other, freeing the governments of two neighboring states to get on with the business of settling their outstanding differences at a steady pace in the knowledge that temporary setbacks would not be calamitous or endanger the entire peace edifice. Oslo reversed the logic of this order by making the end of occupation and the establishment of a Palestinian state hostage to the prior resolution of all other matters, thus locking into the process the seeds of its own undoing.

The most aggressive aspect of the occupation has been the stealthy requisition of land and other resources for the construction of Israeli settlements and special roads throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip over a period of many years, which actually accelerated following the Oslo accords and continued to expand under Barak. Even if the question of international legality were set aside, the personal distress caused to the three million Palestinian inhabitants and the ugly and violent antics of some of the settlers have certainly poisoned relations. For this reason alone, it is hardly surprising if the settlers are the first target of the Intifada. But the greater menace is the threat posed to the prospect of eventual Palestinian independence, potentially destroying all hope, creating a sense of overwhelming despair and fatally damaging any chance of peaceful co-existence between the two peoples. Israel's standing - and indeed its very future - in the region, may in that circumstance be placed in jeopardy too. The settlers - comprising less than four per cent of the Israeli population - may claim to be the pre-eminent defenders of the Jewish state, but the stark reality is that the settlements have set Israel on a path of national suicide.

Opinion polls repeatedly reflect the Israeli people's desire for peace. If they are truly serious about this, the settlers will have to face their day of reckoning. Generous offers of compensation may speed up the evacuation process and reduce the casualties.

As the Israelis will never achieve peace while the Palestinians remain stateless, so the Palestinians will not eventually achieve their state, let alone make it work, without the collaboration of the Israelis. Ultimately, they will live or die together. Currently, there is a strong violent element to the Palestinian battle for independence but, as time progresses, external support - including from within Israeli society - could be decisive. To attract solidarity, there is a pressing need for clearly defined aims - internationally publicised - together with a coherent strategy to achieve them. At present, it is difficult to discern either. If this is not addressed soon, there is a danger of a legitimate political struggle degenerating into inter-factional conflict or even uncontrollable gang warfare, with no winners.

The battle for Israeli public opinion is critical and winnable. The Taba talks indicated that the Palestinian leadership recognized the vital Israeli sticking point that any 'return' of refugees to their historical Palestinian homeland (the area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea) would not be enacted in a way that would prejudice the predominantly Jewish nature of the Israeli state and would be subject to the sovereign decision of the Israeli government over its own territory. Without these qualifications, President Arafat's proclaimed allegiance to the two-state solution would indeed seem disingenuous. A major challenge facing the entire mainstream Palestinian leadership is how to get the message across convincingly to the Israeli people that they accept these qualifications, without simultaneously alienating large segments of the Palestinian people.

For the immediate future, we are faced with the frightening prospect of Israelis and Palestinians continuing to kill, maim and brutalize each other. Israel could seize the initiative at this point by declaring its readiness in principle to end the occupation and to negotiate in good faith the modalities of its withdrawal. A public statement of such intent could, of itself, profoundly affect the mood between the two sides and create a new momentum. But such a pronouncement is unlikely which, in itself, is revealing. Nor is it anticipated that the Palestinian leadership will take steps to facilitate and expedite such a move by urgently recruiting Israeli public opinion to its side.

The recommendations of the aimless and toothless Mitchell Report are unlikely to lead anywhere either. Their main function is to enable the international community to pretend that it is doing something as an alternative to organizing an international protection force, which would be high on the agenda of a less irresponsible US presidency. They also enable Sharon to pretend that he is not playing for time and that it is only continuing Palestinian violence that is delaying 'confidence-building' measures as a prelude to meaningful negotiations. But what would Sharon have to negotiate with the Palestinians other than their effective capitulation?

  • Yet the situation has deteriorated to a point where the conflict could get completely out of hand and pose a potential threat to regional and possibly world peace. What is needed now is a flurry of complementary diplomatic moves which will deliver an independent state for the Palestinians while satisfying Israeli fears about their existence and security and their country's future in the region. Urgent consideration should be given to proposals along the following lines:
  • # A new UN Security Council resolution, supplementary to resolutions 242 and 338, affirming a two-state solution.
  • A US/EU warning to Israel that it would face severe sanctions in the event of a mass flight of Palestinians or an attempt to re-capture their territories or to overthrow the Palestinian Authority.
  • An imaginative and energetic campaign, pioneered by Arab states, for a comprehensive regional settlement, based on the principle of full Israeli withdrawal from Arab territories captured in 1967, including the Syrian Golan Heights, in exchange for the end of the conflict and full peace, involving normal diplomatic and commercial relations and credible assurances regarding Israel's security and integration into the region. The initiative should be pitched not just to the Israeli government but also over its head direct to the Israeli people. An appeal by leading Arab statesmen delivered on Israeli soil may be particularly effective. The psychological dimension on both sides of the conflict should not be underestimated. Official rhetoric and propaganda hostile to Jews as a people, to Judaism as a religion or to Israel per se, should be brought to a complete halt.
  • The burgeoning movements of resistance to the occupation within Israel and the eruption of ad hoc Palestinian-Israeli alliances on the ground should receive international recognition and encouragement. The further growth of Palestinian-Jewish and Arab-Jewish groups in countries around the world should be fostered and they should add their weight to a fair and achievable political solution. Civil society in Arab states should reassess whether shunning all contact with Israeli civil society is the most productive way of delivering support for the Palestinian cause.

The essential components of an eventual solution are well known and were more or less rehearsed at the Taba talks in January 2001. Yet, left to themselves, it is unlikely that the two parties will ever resume these talks, let alone produce a successful outcome. The purely bilateral phase has come and gone. Decisive outside intervention to bring the broader Arab-Israeli conflict to a belated but final conclusion is now vital and urgent and would probably be welcomed, overtly or covertly, by most Israelis and Palestinians caught up in a deathly vortex.

Dr Tony Klug, an international relations specialist, has been writing about the Middle East for many years. His Ph.D thesis was on Israel's rule over the West Bank. He is co-chair of the Council for Jewish-Palestinian Dialogue in the UK and has served as head of international development at Amnesty International. He may be contacted at <tonyklug@compuserve.com>.


Copyright 2001, by Tony Klug and Palestine-Israel Journal

This article and all original materials at MidEastWeb are copyright. Please tell your friends about MidEastWeb. Please forward these materials in e-mails to friends and link to this URL. Reproduction in any other form - by permission of the author only. Please do not copy materials from this Web site to your Web site.

11 Poems about Lebanon

Mitchell Report    Jordanian-Egyptian  Proposal

Poetry of Peace

Jerusalem - Naomi Shehab Nye

Tell a Friend - If you like what you see, tell a friend (or two or three..) about MidEast Web. You can do more than that. MidEast Web is being built by all of us. We need your help.

Using the Web for Good Causes - Web Site tips


This Magazines Supporting Middle East Peace Process site owned by MidEast Web.
[ Previous 5 Sites | Previous | Next | Next 5 Sites | Random Site | List Sites ]