b i t t e r l e m o n s. o r g
    July 28, 2003 Edition 28                       Palestinian-Israeli crossfire
  Three years after Camp David
. Things have changed        by Yossi Alpher
Some revisions will make it more difficult to reach agreement, unless the PLO also reassesses its needs and options.
  . Set aside the myths, and what remains?        by Ghassan Khatib
In fact, there was no documented Israeli offer made at Camp David.
. Essential lessons from the Camp David summit        by Gilead Sher
Attention must be paid to both sides' perceptions, not just to the objective facts.
  . One stage in a troubled process        interview with Hanan Ashrawi
Not until a year later, did the Palestinian story start coming out.

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Things have changed
by Yossi Alpher

There is an inclination on the part of most Palestinians, but also some Americans, Europeans and Arabs and even a few Israelis, to assume that when we return to final status negotiations, nothing will have changed. The issues and positions on the agenda will be more or less those discussed at Camp David II in July 2000, and then further refined in ensuing bilateral meetings that culminated at Taba in January 2001. The Clinton principles of December 2000 are also frequently mentioned as points of departure for future negotiations.

Of course, both Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and President Clinton declared their proposals "null and void" once the negotiations ended. But this tends to be discounted. Obviously the ideas put forth are no longer either official or binding. But isn't it logical, once we stop fighting and resume talking, to pick up where we left off?

Not if we factor into the picture the lessons that Israel must draw from three intervening events: the circumstances of the collapse of the peace talks at Camp David and afterwards, and particularly the "parting" Palestinian positions on the refugee/right of return issue and the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif issue; nearly three years of bloody conflict with the Palestinians; and the aftermath of the American campaign in Iraq.

Thus even a left-leaning Israeli government (and not that of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon) is likely to offer a wide range of revisions to the Israeli negotiating position of Camp David-Taba. Some might make negotiations easier; most are likely to make it even more difficult to reach agreement, unless the Palestine Liberation Organization also reassesses its needs and options three years later.

Borders and settlements: Israel will likely show a greater readiness to return to a defensible border that is close to the 1967 lines, and to concede settlements, like, say, Ariel, that would be hard to defend against Palestinian attackers because they could only be annexed to Israel as the extremity of indefensible "fingers" of territory. Here Israel would be applying lessons learned from the intifada, and the parties will have an easier time agreeing on final status borders. (On the other hand, a right wing Israeli government will insist on far greater Israeli annexations of West Bank and even Gaza land than demanded at Camp David. But this has little to do with lessons of the past three years; the right held this view long before Camp David.)

Border security with Jordan and Egypt: In view of its experience with Palestinian arms smuggling before and during the intifada, Israel will demand more stringent controls at the Palestinian borders with Jordan (Jordan Valley) and Egypt (Rafah), in order to ensure that demilitarization provisions concerning Palestine are enforced. This will probably take the form of a more extended and more intrusive Israeli security presence on the ground, even if it is integrated into an international security force. A similar beefed up Israeli presence will be demanded with regard to Palestine's air and sea borders.

Palestine-Israel border security: While arrangements for trade, tourism and worker mobility remain likely, Israel will place far more emphasis on the concept of the border as "separation" rather than "integration". This will likely include a security fence along the agreed border.

Early warning stations: In the aftermath of the defeat of Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq, Israel's early warning requirements looking (electronically) to the east might be somewhat alleviated, thereby possibly partially reducing the number of early warning stations it needs to maintain on the mountain ridge of the West Bank, and limiting the intrusion on Palestinian sovereignty.

Refugee/right of return issue: Israel's position will be tougher. The Palestinian leadership's insistence after Camp David that Israel accept the principle of the right of return, coupled with the violence of the intifada, the radicalization of the Israeli Arab community and demographic realities, have persuaded most Israelis that the Palestinians' ultimate aim is to "Palestinize" Israel. Hence any Israeli government is now likely to insist that a peace treaty comprise Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, and not comprise any Israeli recognition of the right of return.

Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif: On this issue, too, Arafat's post-Camp David insistence that there never was a Jewish temple on the mount is widely understood as yet another attempt to delegitimize the Jewish people and deny Israel's character as a Jewish state. Hence Israel will probably insist that, whatever formula is found, it comprise Palestinian recognition of the mount's Jewish history, with appropriate Jewish access--of course, without violating the mount's Muslim history and status.

In short, Camp David/Taba cannot be replicated. But history, sadly, will be repeated, in the sense that Palestinians will discover--as they did after rejecting British partition offers in the 1930s, United Nations General Assembly Resolution 181 in 1947, and Camp David I in 1978--that overall they are being offered less than what they turned down last time. -Published 28/7/03©bitterlemons.org

Yossi Alpher is coeditor of bitterlemons.org and bitterlemons-international.org. He is a former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University and a former senior adviser to PM Ehud Barak.

Set aside the myths, and what remains?
by Ghassan Khatib

Three years after the Camp David summit--that infamous "lost opportunity"--it is useful to examine whether the alternative approaches attempted after the summit’s failure were productive for either party to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. It was inevitable that allowing this very first and highly visible final status negotiations summit to crash and burn would bring us to the only alternative to peaceful negotiations--violent confrontations. Today, both parties are reaping their rewards.

In the Palestinian perception, after Israel failed to convince the Palestinian leadership to enter into final status agreements at Camp David, it decided to try to use other means of "convincing" Palestinians of the kind of solution that Israel thought correct. Starting with the leadership of former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and since, Israel has initiated the use of all manner of pressure against Palestinians, including violence and collective punishment. There is no other explanation for the government’s precedent-setting act of allowing right-wing opposition leader Ariel Sharon to enter the Haram Al Sharif, an Islamic holy place, in a public relations stunt. When Palestinians demonstrated, Israel responded with a blizzard of force, spending thousands of bullets and killing an average of ten Palestinians a day for the first ten days of what was later to be called the "intifada", despite almost no Israeli casualties.

This barrage was accompanied by the rapid propagation of several myths crafted by Israel about Camp David. One of these has been that Israel made an "unprecedented and generous offer" to end the occupation on 90 to 95 percent of the occupied Palestinian territories, an offer that the Palestinians refused to accept.

In fact, there was no documented Israeli offer made at Camp David. There were American attempts to establish positions here and there, but these were not Israeli, nor were they generous. Even these suggestions did not present a serious strategy for handling the Jerusalem component of the conflict, nor did they barely touch upon the very major issue of refugees. After Camp David, there was the opportunity to build on what the summit had started: United States President Bill Clinton introduced his proposals, which were not refused by either Palestinians or Israelis. There is no truth to the lie that Palestinians rejected the dream that they have always struggled for.

The second part of that myth, of course, is that Palestinians did not "accept" the end of occupation because they were intent on the return of millions of Palestinian refugees, a demand that--as Israel and its supporters tell it--is meant to reclaim that section of historic Palestine that is now Israel. This is also pure fiction, since Palestinians have never demanded the return of "millions of refugees," but always rightly said that the Palestinian refugee issue, which sits at the heart of the conflict, must be solved on the basis of international law and United Nations Resolution 194, and in a manner negotiated by the two parties.

Israel has wielded these myths alongside an immense battery of force to try to impose on Palestinians the kind of negotiating terms that are convenient for Israel. What Israel has gotten instead are not weaker Palestinian demands, but a further deepening of the vicious cycle of violence and hatred and the spirit of revenge within both societies. It has now come time for Israel and Palestinians to recognize that the use of force is counterproductive and that replacing confrontation with negotiations may have a better chance of achieving both sides’ legitimate objectives. -Published 28/7/03©bitterlemons.org

Ghassan Khatib is coeditor of bitterlemons and bitterlemons-international.org. He is also minister of labor in the Palestinian Authority cabinet and has served for many years as a political analyst and media contact.

Essential lessons from the Camp David summit
by Gilead Sher

Camp David, which followed intensive preparatory negotiations in Sweden, was for Israel an important benchmark in the process, rather than a final conclusion of it. It aimed at bringing about an end to the occupation, and, it was hoped, an end to the conflict.

The Palestinians' approach to the summit stemmed from a search for historic justice. In addition, it entailed exploiting political negotiations as a phase in the ongoing clash of cultures, religions and peoples.

There was thus a significant gap in the way both parties conceived of the purpose of the summit. This conceptual gap affected the unfolding of events far more than any of the mistakes made by either of the parties or the mistrust that characterized their relationship along the way.

At Camp David, it was Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat who critically failed. This is my view, indeed, but I also believe that the bulk of Palestinian society understands it now as well: the tragedy that has befallen them over the past two and a half years has a nametag on it. The talks in Camp David and pursuant to it could have paved the way towards ending the occupation, much as the roadmap does.

When the dialogue does resume, as we have to believe it will, it is absolutely vital that we draw the lessons of the collapse of the Camp David summit. Among numerous such lessons I would suggest the following:

First, there must be preparation of public opinion. The "historic compromise" concealed in the agreement almost reached at Camp David was not well explained to the respective constituencies. In Israel, commentaries focused on what we were likely to be giving up rather than the benefits of transformation or the fruits of peace. It seems almost obvious that concerted effort and attention must be given to continuous, comprehensive public relations--explaining to the public the thinking behind the political process.

But this did not happen, or at least not sufficiently. Arafat for his part never clearly projected a readiness to reach a true historic compromise with Zionism, based on the partition of the Land of Israel into two independent political entities. And in the absence of any other directive from above, the ongoing hostility and wild incitement fell on fertile ground. To this I would add the need to establish moderate international and Arab coalitions to sustain United States policy, a lesson already well learned and implemented by President George W. Bush.

Second, attention must be paid to both sides' perceptions, not just to the objective facts. On the issue of the refugees, for example, it was the image of things that held sway over the substance. Here was an ethos that had been built up and nurtured over decades as one of the cornerstones of the Palestinian national struggle. The Palestinian negotiators considered it their duty to show that the suffering of the refugees had come to an end and that their dream was about to be realized, even if only formally. As a result, for many of our Palestinian counterparts, the wording of this section in the draft agreement was far more important than the practical mechanisms to be set up to help rehabilitate the refugees, or the effort to mobilize the international community on their behalf.

Third, careful thought must be given to the question of process management. Sometimes it may be as important as the substance and content of negotiations. When parties move towards closing such a dramatic "deal", the process must be kept very well defined and very strict. A rigid framework is needed with a rigid agenda from which the parties cannot be allowed to deviate. This was definitely not the case at Camp David. Indeed, it started with an orderly procedure of presenting positions, setting out respective interests and then giving each of the sides their respective "assignments". The facilitator hosting the summit got off to a good start. However, there was no follow-up. The mechanism later collapsed, and the business-like, pragmatic atmosphere that had marked the beginning simply fell away. The process was unclear and disorganized. I hope that the same pattern does not repeat itself in the process of pushing President Bush's Middle East roadmap forward.

Fourth, the permanent status core issues are all interlinked. It is not possible to isolate any single issue from the others. The approach adopted by the Israeli negotiators was predicated on a readiness to discuss far-reaching ideas for solving all these issues, as long as nothing was considered agreed and binding until everything was agreed. For their part, the Palestinians' suspicion that Israel was seeking a way to deceive the world and perpetuate the occupation prevailed over any reasonable explanations to the contrary.

Fifth, timing is crucial. The Clinton proposals of December 2000 were ready as early as August 2000. They followed up on as many as 50 extensive daily negotiations, recapping the convergences reached in Camp David between the parties. Had President Clinton presented them then, capitalizing on the momentum remaining from the summit, I believe the outcome might have been different. In the event, a very different momentum of violence was brought into being and the historic opportunity was lost. Sadly enough, there was no realistic US contingency plan in place, and no fallback or exit strategies prepared in anticipation of the summit's failure. -Published 28/7/03©bitterlemons.org

Gilead Sher acted as co-chief negotiator in 1999-2001 and at the Camp David and Taba summits as well as in extensive rounds of covert negotiations. Sher later joined Ehud Barak as the prime minister's bureau chief and policy coordinator up to the elections of 2001. He recorded his experiences from this period in his book Just Beyond Reach.

One stage in a troubled process
an interview with Hanan Ashrawi

bitterlemons: After a great deal of hindsight, what did the experience of Camp David teach Palestinians?

Ashrawi: One can assess and reassess one’s accomplishments and failures, but obviously the Camp David experience failed for a variety of reasons, including the contributions of the participants--Israelis, Americans and the Palestinians.

The Americans convened the summit at a time when the negotiations had not reached a level that would indicate conclusion. In a sense, they convened the summit without significant preparation and under duress--particularly from the Israelis, who knew that conditions had not ripened enough. [Then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud] Barak came with an attitude of "take-it-or-leave it" and a strategy of ill will in the sense that he did not offer complete and comprehensive support [for the talks]. At the same time, he was attempting to undermine the interim phase agreements by arriving at a permanent settlement that included no further claims by the Palestinians, all the while knowing that the Israeli position did not meet the minimum of what was required.

Third, the Palestinians went without sufficient preparation and a coherent strategy. They went as a fragmented team, with many points of view. They didn’t present ideas and so they were in a reactive mode. A lot can be said about Palestinian negotiating strategy.

bitterlemons: Do you think that there are final status issues where, after Camp David and after the intifada, Palestinians would likely be less flexible?

Ashrawi: We cannot talk about being more or less flexible because Camp David could not have reached an agreement. It was a starting point and Barak wanted it to be a final point. I don’t think that one can blame the Palestinians--as many people like to do very conveniently--by saying that this was a “missed opportunity”, because there was no opportunity to be missed.

The Palestinians made a very serious mistake in not exposing what happened in Camp David, in not coming out publicly with their version. The Israeli version and then the American version became the dominant description of what happened. These were fraught with many vested interests and personal agendas. Not until a year later, did the Palestinian story start coming out.

bitterlemons: Why was that?

Ashrawi: Again, probably a lack of understanding of the significance of their own narrative, as well as the lack of a cohesive narrative. It was a very obviously fragmented performance in the midst of a campaign to discredit the Palestinians.

bitterlemons: When you look at the strain of negotiations through the Madrid and Oslo talks, Camp David and then the roadmap, do you see any significant shifts in the assumptions on which negotiations are based?

Ashrawi: You cannot reinvent the substance. Palestinians have always maintained that what is required is full Israeli withdrawal from the 1967 boundaries and the establishment of an independent and viable state and an equitable and just solution for the refugees.

It doesn’t take much imagination to address the basic issues. These are the issues that have been on the books since the beginning and have been addressed obliquely in a variety of ways.

But what has changed is the way that substance is being tackled. In Madrid, even though there was a two-phase approach that the Americans adopted (we tried very hard not to have a two-phase approach), there was real political engagement.

In Oslo, of course, the talks were concluded because some issues were totally ignored, others were postponed and there were separate agreements--in a sense, the flaws of the Declaration of Principles (DOP) allowed it to be signed. If it had been a serious document, then it would have taken much more time and it wouldn’t have been signed in the dark. It prioritized the interests of the few at the expense of the public, and we are paying the price because it allowed Israel to manipulate the DOP to its own end.

After that, Taba and Wye suffered from the basic flaws of the DOP: Israel was in control. Palestinians were on the defensive and reactive. There was further fragmentation of the land, further fragmentation of the people, further phases that were not implemented. Then we ended up at Camp David, where the basic flaw was that the talks came from the mentality of occupation. The basis of any agreement should be international law and legality and an understanding that there are equal human rights, not Israel in a position of superiority.

The roadmap, for the first time, supposedly includes a global commitment. There are no longer two sponsors, the United States and Russia, but the Quartet [which includes the United Nations and the European Union].

When the chips were down, however, we ended up with only one sponsor. The roadmap had genuine third-party participation to provide verification and accountability, but gradually the monitoring and verification has become restricted to the Americans only.

The other unique thing about the roadmap is that it defines the objective of talks as a two-state solution, with Palestine as a viable sovereign state (even though [Israeli Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon did not agree to this formula).

Overall, the problems faced by the Palestinian negotiators, the Israeli mentality of occupation, and the lack of third-party intervention have been exhibited throughout the peace process. As such, Camp David represents only one of those stages. -Published 28/7/03©bitterlemons.org

Hanan Ashrawi was Palestinian spokesperson at the 1991 Madrid talks, and again at Camp David in 2000. Until her resignation in 1998, Ashrawi served as Palestinian minister of higher education, after which she founded the non-governmental organization, Miftah.

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