by Tony Klug
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 Oavid 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 U.S. President Clinton and many self-proclaimed supporters of the Israeli peace camp - nursing a deep sense of trust betrayed - joined the orgy of denigration.
The accusations levelled 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. However, especially now, this is a dangerous indulgence. It is vital for Israeli society to emerge quickly from its shellshock, let go of its self¬righteous indignation and start critically to examine its own part in fomenting the current crisis.
What happened at Camp Oavid - and the conclusions to be drawn ¬matters 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 this article.
The precise details of what was offered by whom at the two-week summit cannot be stated with certainty, as 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 is essentially false. Drawing on a range of published and unpublished papers, reports and commentaries, it is possible to analyze the salient points missing from or misrepresented by the mainstream Israeli narrative.
Firstly, 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, notably such vital make-or-break issues as Jerusalem and the 1948 refugees, which had been left to the "final basket" precisely because of their complexity and sensitivity. Against this, Prime Minister Barak desperately needed a credible peace agreement with the Palestinians to present to the Israeli electorate, having unnecessarily finessed himself into calling an early election. Coupled with the imminent termination of President Clinton/s term of office, this became the overriding imperative. Tt was a shaky basis for such a crucial meeting.
Secondly, Barak/s negotiating method has been compared to 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-Ieave-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 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 the Gaza Strip; that in exchange for Israel incorporating between three and five percent 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 prop.osal in fact involved substantial annexation of West Bank territory, ranging from 9 percent to 13.5 percent, with a maximum of 1 percent 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 unnerved 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 were vehemently opposed and the synagogue idea was reportedly then dropped.
Fifthly, the decisive verdict of Bill Clinton about the bravery of Barak and the culpability of Arafat was not the judgement of an honest broker. The administration itself has since publicly revealed that all proposals put forward by the D.S. had been 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 refused to negotiate. Expert opinion is divided on the extent to which the Palestinians responded at Camp David to Israel‘s proposals with counter-proposals, but for sure the negotiations continued in a less-frenzied fashion after the break-up of the summit, culminating six months later at Taba. There differences were reported by both sides to have narrowed considerably on every issue, to the point where a compre~ensive agreement looked to be feasible with a little more time. However, the Intifida was well under way by then and Barak was about to be trounced by Sharon in the Israeli election.
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 June 5, 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 percent of the land they had previously claimed. Any encroachment on the remaining 22 percent would be regarded as tantamount to theft. 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 blatant erosion of an unequivocal right. The alleged "inflexibility‘" of the Palestinians at Camp David was less the cause of the deadlock than the illusions of the Israeli and V.S. delegations about what was up for negotiation and their mistaken assessments about where the vital Palestinian sticking points lay.
Now it is Israel‘s turn to confront its great historical dilemma. It can have the spoils of war or the dividends 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 is also coming round to this view. Other sectors of the Israeli population will surely follow in due course. 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 treat each other as equal partners and do not view the 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. The Oslo principles, with their fine sentiments of "peaceful coexistence," "mutual dignity and security,"""historic reconciliation," and "a spirit of peace," would appear at first sight to contradict this point. 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 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. This would free 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 the 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 intemationallegality 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 that 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 GO¬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.
A Frightening Prospect
As the Israelis will never achieve peace while the Palestinians remain stateless, so the Palestinians will not ultimately achieve their state, let alone make it work, without the collaboration of the Israelis. Currently, there is a strong violent element to the Palestinian battle for independence but, ultimately, external support - including from within Israeli society - could be decisive. To attract solidarity, there is a priority need for clearly defined aims - internationally publicized - together with a coherent strategy to achieve them. There is a danger otherwise 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 vital and winnable. The Taba talks indicated that the Palestinian leadership recognized the vital Israeli sticking point that any "return" of refugees would not prejudice the Jewish nature of the state and would be subject to Israel‘s sovereign decision. 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 Mitchell Report may 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 the continuation of 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 that 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 outside intervention is needed to act on 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 directly 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.