Itamar Rabinovich, Waging Peace: Israel and the Arabs 1948–2003.
Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2004. 326 pages.
Tanya Reinhart, Israel/Palestine: How to End the War of 1948.
New York: Seven Stories Press, 2002. 278 pages.
Review by Arthur Milner
The view that Yasser Arafat was responsible for the failure of the July 2000 peace talks at Camp David, and the violence that followed, is widely shared. To cite one of many examples, in a July 26, 2004, article in the Toronto Globe and Mail discussing contemporary music in Israel, Sarah Fulford wrote that Israel’s “leftists” are “furious at Palestinian president Yasser Arafat for walking away from the Camp David negotiations.”
The implication of the ubiquitous phrase “walking away from Camp David” is clear: Israel made a very generous offer at Camp David, and Arafat turned it down flat, without making a counteroffer. Further, a few months later, the Second Intifada and its spate of suicide bombings began. “The inescapable conclusion,” wrote Norman Podhoretz in Commentary in October 2001, “was that Camp David and its violent aftermath exposed the fraudulence of Arafat’s expressed desire for coexistence … Entering into the ‘peace process’ had been nothing more than a change of tactics in the overall strategy of destroying Israel.”1
In Israel, that lesson has taken hold and deepened. When I was there recently, Israelis who had been supporters of the Oslo accords told me, “You can’t negotiate with Arabs.” Israel’s peace camp is in disarray. And “you can’t negotiate with Arafat” is used as justification for current Israeli and U.S. government positions.
Three recent books, Itamar Rabinovich’s Waging Peace, Charles Enderlin’s Shattered Dreams and Tanya Reinhart’s Israel/Palestine, consider the “inescapability” of Podhoretz’s conclusion. They make it clear that Arafat did not “walk away from Camp David.” First, Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s offer at Camp David was not particularly generous. Second, negotiations, with Arafat’s active participation, continued for at least six months after Camp David, which, as Enderlin writes, “was only one stage in the peace process.”
The “generous offer” came at the White House on December 23, 2000, and was made by President Clinton. Israel’s cabinet and government accepted Clinton’s proposals, and then Israeli and Palestinian negotiators worked furiously, primarily at Taba on the Israeli-Egyptian border. At the end of January 2001, negotiators gave up. Arafat would not agree. If Arafat did not “walk away from Camp David,” it’s fair, though less dramatic, to say that he turned down Clinton’s comparatively generous proposals. Such measured phrasing, of course, does not attribute sufficient blame, and Barak, according to Enderlin, definitely wanted someone to blame: “Barak had prepared for a failure at Camp David … During simulations held before the summit, [his advisers] concluded that blame for a possible failure absolutely had to be placed on Arafat.”
At Camp David, late in July 2000, Arafat sent a note to Clinton: “I appreciate your efforts …, but these proposals could not constitute the basis for a historic reconciliation.” In a morning meeting, Clinton responded, “On both sides the positions have moved forward. I would like you to continue negotiations.” “I am at your service, as are all my negotiators,” said Arafat. “We must not let the peace process fail,” said Barak. Enderlin describes what happened next: