Charles Enderlin, Shattered Dreams: The Failure of the
Peace Process in the Middle East, 1995–2002.
New York: Other Press, 2002. 458 pages.
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.
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, 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:
The Palestinians are packing their bags. In their rooms the televisions are on. Special broadcasts are being devoted to the failure of the summit. American and Israeli sources are accusing Arafat “of not having made any concessions,” while Ehud Barak “risked his political career by agreeing to the re-dividing of Jerusalem.” Saeb Erekat is furious. He phones Dennis Ross.
“Barak needs this so he can face his internal difficulties in Israel,” Ross said. Erekat replied, “You’re destroying everything! You’re destroying everything!” The next day, Clinton told the press, “It’s fair to say … that Prime Minister Barak moved further ahead than Chairman Arafat.” Enderlin concludes, “For the Israeli and international press, the subject is closed: Arafat is to blame for the failure at Camp David.”
Itamar Rabinovitch is President of Tel Aviv University. He served, under Labour-led governments, as Israel’s chief negotiator with Syria from 1992 to 1995, and as ambassador to the United States from 1993 to 1996. In a conversation with Charlie Rose of PBS on May 18, 2004, Rabinovich said, “Arafat unfortunately is a disappointment. He is not a statesman … If he had taken the Barak proposals in 2000, the Palestinians would have had a state in 95 per cent of the West Bank.” This is a common enough assessment, to be found in both Clinton’s recent autobiography and Dennis Ross’s The Missing Peace: The Inside Story of the Fight for Middle East Peace. According to The Economist (August 14, 2004), Ross “spreads blame in many directions, but saves most for Mr. Arafat. Had Mr. Arafat chosen to be ‘a leader and not just a symbol,’ Oslo and Camp David might have succeeded.”
These, like Rabinovich’s, are measured assessments, but one has to be careful about what’s behind them. In the same PBS interview, Rabinovich said, “It’s fine to talk about ‘you have to negotiate with Palestinians,’ but who do you negotiate with? When the Palestinians empower a legitimate negotiator … you could negotiate.” Rabinovich also says that Yitzhak Rabin “is the one leader who could have made the Oslo Accords work … He was a statesman, he had leadership, he had the trust of the Israeli people.”
So apparently Rabin could have reached an agreement, even with the unstatesmanly Arafat, and even though there’s no one to negotiate with. And what about Barak? By omission, it seems Rabinovich does not consider Barak a statesman. For some reason, Barak’s unstatesmanliness was not fatal to negotiations, but Arafat’s was.
Waging Peace, originally published in 1999 and “updated and revised” in 2004, carries endorsements from Henry Kissinger and Bernard Lewis. It’s a frustrating book, best described as “diplomatic.” Further, the updating seems haphazard; when Rabinovitch writes “now,” it is not always clear which now he is referring to. Rabinovitch expands on the theme of statesmanship, but also acknowledges that there were “significant flaws in the conduct of the negotiations by Israel and the United States.” He writes that “in the circumstances surrounding the summer of 2000, a final-status agreement was simply not within reach.” And he criticizes Ehud Barak, who, Rabinovich says,
Was right to try to establish whether Arafat was a sincere partner in brokering a final-status agreement. However, once he found out that Arafat was not, Barak’s adoption of an “all or nothing approach” was erroneous. Also, by arguing that he “tore the mask off face, he cast a shadow on his own (genuine) quest for a definitive agreement” .
Let’s consider this closely. The whole of the Clinton negotiations were based on reaching a “final-status agreement,” which would require Palestinian agreement that the relevant UN resolutions (181 and 242 on Israeli withdrawal and 194 on the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes) had been resolved. But according to Rabinovich, “In the circumstances surrounding the summer of 2000, a final-status agreement was simply not within reach.” So Barak’s all-or-nothing approach was “erroneous.” Then, when the talks broke down – as they had to, since a final-status agreement was “simply not within reach” – did Barak try to work out an interim agreement, as “would have been preferable”? No. He announced that he had torn the mask off Arafat’s face! Exposing what exactly? That a final-status agreement was not within reach. And such behaviour, Rabinovich says, casts no more than a shadow on Barak’s unquestionably “genuine” desire for an agreement, while Arafat “failed the test of statesmanship” and is not a “legitimate negotiator.”
Rabinovich lists a few more “serious flaws in the conduct of the negotiations by Israel and the United States”:
- “The Camp David Conference convened without adequate preparation.”
- It “was held too close to the U.S. presidential election” – not to mention that the Lewinsky ordeal was taking up much of Clinton’s time and energy.
- “The United States and Israel spent too much time in a futile effort to come to terms with and were late to arrive at a crucial phase in the negotiations with the Palestinians. By that point, Clinton was too close to the end of his term and Barak had lost his coalition.”
These seem fairly large errors. But that’s the way it goes. Israelis (and Americans) are guilty of “significant flaws”; Palestinians are not fit “partners for peace.”
Charles Enderlin has lived in Israel since 1968 and has been bureau chief for France 2 since 1990. Shattered Dreams is a clear, detailed and often moving account of six years of negotiations, based on transcripts of recorded interviews with apparently dedicated, sincere and hard-working Palestinian, Israeli and American politicians, diplomats and negotiators. Of the key players, Clinton appears remarkably committed to the process, Peres seems indecisive, Barak appears rude beyond belief, while Arafat remains enigmatic.
Enderlin adds a few more items to the list of flaws in Israeli diplomacy. After Rabin’s assassination in 1995, 4,000 dignitaries, including Bill Clinton, Jacques Chirac and Prince Charles, attend his funeral. King Hussein of Jordan and Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak deliver eulogies. Arafat isn’t allowed into Israel. While Rabin had resisted responding to terrorist attacks, Shimon Peres, who replaced Rabin as Prime Minister, doesn’t, and violence on both sides escalates. As would Barak a few years later, Peres enters intense negotiations with Syria at a time when his attention should have been on the Palestinians. Worried about his falling standing in the polls, he calls an election, ends negotiations with Syria and refuses to implement the next phase of the Oslo accords, antagonizing Syrians and Palestinians respectively. In response to skirmishes on the Lebanese border, he sends bombers, which take out a United Nations camp where Lebanese are seeking shelter; 102 people are killed. Arab citizens of Israel boycott the election, and Peres loses to Benjamin Netanyahu.
Three years later, Barak is Prime Minister. With the Camp David negotiations about to begin in 2000, Arafat asks that Israel carry out the West Bank redeployment called for in the Oslo agreement, now years behind, explaining that “he must be able to present his people with genuine gains.” Barak, who as Interior Minister under Rabin had opposed Oslo, responds, “There’s no point going ahead with it. We’ll talk about it during the negotiations on the definitive status.” Yossi Ginosaur, Barak’s personal envoy to Arafat, “is deeply shocked. Once again, he has to persuade Arafat that an agreement with Barak is possible.”
At dinner at Camp David on July 16, Barak is seated next to Arafat for two hours. Barak “does not once turn his head toward the leader of the PLO.” During a meeting on July 20, Barak enters the room and Arafat approaches him. Barak “turns away without greeting and sits down beside Madeleine Albright.” In the midst of negotiations, on September 28, Barak allows then–Opposition Leader Ariel Sharon to visit the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount, sparking the Second Intifada.
And, of course, the settlements: “In the past year 6,045 housing units have been built in the settlements, the highest number since 1992.” As Enderlin writes, the Palestinians can’t understand, if the Israelis want to make peace, “Why are they speeding up construction in the settlements and on our territory?” Finally, the life-and-death balance sheet: “Since the beginning of the Intifada, 279 Palestinians and 41 Israelis have been killed.”
Still, whatever the provocations, the fact remains that Arafat did not accept Clinton’s proposals, and looking back over the last few years, it’s hard, though not impossible, to imagine how things could have gone any worse for the Palestinians if he had. Why didn’t he? Perhaps he lacked the courage to face Palestinian radicals or the Palestinian people; perhaps he feared assassination. But perhaps he had perfectly rational grounds to refuse: given Israel’s lack of compliance with Oslo, and with Clinton’s presidency in its final days, did it actually make sense to sign away UN resolutions in exchange for more Israeli promises? Or perhaps the truth is, as most Israelis now seem to believe, that Arafat is (or all Palestinians are) duplicitous, brutal and/or insane.
The question rarely asked, however, is, “Why have various leaders of the Israeli peace camp, particularly Peres and Barak, behaved as they have?” Perhaps there are reasonable, individual reasons for their mistakes. Perhaps their all-purpose explanation – that settlements must be expanded and retaliation must be swift and brutal to maintain governing coalitions or win elections – is genuine. Or perhaps the truth is, as most Palestinians now seem to believe, that the Israeli leadership is (or all Israelis are) duplicitous, brutal and/or insane.
Tanya Reinhart is a professor of linguistics and cultural studies at Tel Aviv University and the University of Utrecht, and she writes for Israel’s largest daily newspaper. She claims to know the reason for the failure of the Clinton-led negotiations: “The most plausible interpretation of Barak’s Camp David move is that he initiated it with the intention that it fail, thus showing that the Palestinians are the rejectionist side. ‘I am the one that exposed Arafat’s real face,’ Barak boasted.”
For Reinhart, there is tacit or explicit agreement among large parts of the current generation of Israel’s left- and right-wing political and military leaders, and their shared goal, she says, is the “completion of the ethnic cleansing that started in 1948.” The political leadership of the peace camp plays its part by “diverting the majority of the occupation’s opponents toward the route of preserving the status quo,” i.e., maintaining the occupation. This is, of course, very uncomfortable reading for someone who for many years has supported Israel’s doves.
“Israel/Palestine,” according to a back-cover endorsement from the late Edward Said, “is the most devastating critique now available of Israel’s policy toward the Palestinian people.” Reinhart makes a convincing case that Israeli brutality predated Palestinian terrorism; that Israeli governments have undermined (and sometimes ordered or permitted the killing of) moderate Palestinian leaders; that assassinations of Palestinians often came at times when truces were being observed; that the economy of the territories is being intentionally destroyed; and that Israel’s offers were far less generous than they appeared.
Those who accept without question that Palestinian civilian deaths are unfortunate accidents in Israel’s fight against terrorism should read Reinhart on Israel’s “Policy on Injuries.” Citing Palestinian, Israeli and U.S. sources, she describes disturbing patterns of injuries. The necessary conclusion, she writes, it that specially trained Israeli army units “shoot in a calculated manner in order to cripple” (including the “common Israeli practice a rubber-coated metal bullet into a Palestinian’s eye”). “In a place so closely observed by the world as Israel/Palestine,” she explains, “ethnic cleansing cannot be a sudden act of massive slaughter and land evacuation. Rather, it is a repetitive process by which people are slowly forced to perish or flee.”
“The easy way to exterminate a weak nation has always been to drag it into a hopeless war,” says Reinhart. Is that Israel’s strategy? Are the peace negotiations just diplomatic cover? That would require a great many outright liars and sincere dupes. One needn’t accept every detail of Reinhart’s argument. But one does have to ask: Why has the number of Israeli settlers in the territories doubled since Oslo? Why has the increase been as great under left- as under right-wing coalitions?
The book’s subtitle is How to End the War of 1948, and Reinhart’s solution, given the tone of the rest of the book, is surprisingly moderate: that Israel “withdraw unilaterally, as it did in Lebanon,” evacuating at least “90 per cent of the West Bank, along with the whole of the Gaza Strip,” leaving for negotiation “the 6 to 10 per cent of the West Bank with the large settlement blocs that cannot be evacuated overnight, as well as the issues of Jerusalem and the right of return.” She cites polls showing that a majority of Israelis support unilateral evacuation, as do a number of important organizations. She has little respect for politicians, Peace Now and noted doves such as Yossi Beilin and Amos Oz, who call for a resumption of negotiations (and she has less respect for Arafat and his team, who “do their best to hide from their people how little they have managed to gain after years of negotiation”).
Israel/Palestine was published before Ariel Sharon announced his Gaza plan. Reinhart would likely advise that those hoping for a genuine withdrawal not hold their breath:
Even after a withdrawal, Israel will retain control of Gaza’s land borders, sea coast and airspace, and keep a veto over the establishment of an airport or sea port there, making more difficult Palestinian acceptance of the withdrawal as genuine. Still more serious is that Israel’s implementation of the proposal will be conditional on Palestinian prevention of violence emerging from Gaza, leaving the plan hostage to veto groups wishing to sabotage it.2
In 1990, South African Prime Minister Frederik W. de Klerk entered the South African Parliament and announced the end of apartheid. In an interview a few years later, de Klerk said,
Before I became president, in the latter part of the eighties, the options were limited. One option was a military option: hold fast, continue, hold on to power, suppress. Another option would be to string things out: to negotiate, but really not to negotiate; to give in a little bit here, doing a little thing there, and to just stretch it out.3
If we follow Reinhart’s thesis, Israel’s right-wing parties have followed the first, military, option, while those on the left have chosen the second: “To give in a little bit here, doing a little thing there, and to just stretch it out.”
Frederik de Klerk simply announced that apartheid was over, and thereby saved untold lives.
Now that’s statesmanship.
1 Cited in Itamar Rabinovich, Waging Peace: Israel and the Arabs 1948–2003, p. 171.
2 From a letter sent to Prime Minister Paul Martin, this past May, signed by 56 “retired parliamentarians, ambassadors, journalists, academics, religious leaders and others concerned with Canadian policies to foster a just and lasting peace in the Middle East.”
3 Joe Richmond and Susan Johnson, producers, Mandela: An Audio History, aired on CBC radio, Sunday, June 27, 2004.