Israel Forum Watch; 24-Hour Vilification, Apologetics and Hate from a Fanatically Pro-Israel Viewpoint

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Camp David: Propagating the Myth

Immediately after Camp David, Ehud Barak laid the blame for failure firmly at the feet of Yasser Arafat. It has since become an article of faith of the pro-Israel zealots that this is indeed the case. How did this become so widely accepted? The invaluable Daniel Dor looked at this question in his book ‘Intifada Hits the Headlines: How the Israeli Press Misreported the Outbreak of the Second Palestinian Uprising’ (published first in Hebrew under the mercifully shorter title of ‘Newspapers under the Influence’). It’s also an excellent book for a general critique of the inner workings of the so-called ‘liberal media’.

Apologies for the long excerpt, but it’s well worth the read.

After long years of floundering between interim agreements, with occasional territorial concessions, periodic crises, and sporadic terror attacks, one Israeli PM decided to examine once for all, scientifically, whether indeed it was possible to finalise the process with a real peace agreement. This PM – Ehud Barak – cut through procedures, put an end to pattern of interim agreements, and offered Arafat a permanent status agreement on unimaginable, unprecedented, “generous” terms. How did Arafat respond to that proposal? By igniting the flames of the Intifada………Why did he do that?.........The answer to the riddle is clear and simple: Arafat was not interested in peace………..This answer to the riddle is unpleasant, disappointing, frustrating – but this is the reality. One simply has to get used to it.

This perspective was most eloquently expressed in an extensive and very influential article published by Ari Shavit in Ha’aretz’s weekend magazine on October 27, 2000. The article itself, under the title “BARAKS COPERNICAN REVOLUTION”, begins with a lengthy historical review of the defeat of the geocentric perspective lying at the heart of ancient astronomy…… “The present historical moment”, writes Shavit, is a Copernican moment – and Ehud Barak is no other than an Israeli Copernicus, since he has proven that the “autocentric” perspective of Israeli culture was no more than “a figment of our imagination; a wish; a false dream; a cock-and-bull story”;
Two complementary assumptions were the basis for this autocentric perspective: the assumption that the Israeli occupation since 1967 lies at the heart of the conflict; and the assumption that……the solution is at hand, for it depends primarily on Israel and it’s willingness to put an end to this occupation. Thus the real historical importance of the events of October 2000 is the fact that they undermined this autocentric perspective along with its two assumptions. For the Palestinian national movements decision to land a violent attack on Israel was made just after Israel offered that same movement to put an end to the occupation, recognize a Palestinian state, retreat from 95% of the territories, and even divide Jerusalem…….In the months preceding this outburst of violence, Barak actually subjected the old peace hypothesis to a critical experiment……This is the real meaning of Barak’s term in government so far. This is Barak’s real revolution……. Now the masquerade is over…….Now we all look this cruel reality- revealed by Barak and personified by Arafat –in the eye

Throughout October, and much later as well, it was hard to find an Israeli who would not readily accept Ari Shavit’s words. This was true not only of the political Right, who celebrated quite a victory during those days, but also of the moderate Left which at the time was going through intense conceptual stock-taking…….The simple fact, however, is that Ari Shavit’s perspective, the perspective formed by Ehud Barak’s propaganda, is completely unfounded –for two fundamental and complementary reasons. These reasons are well known throughout October; they were freely discussed by reporters and analysts, but the newspapers completely avoided any attempt to explicitly deal with them, thus helping to perpetuate Barak’s perspective in the Israel consciousness to an extent than now seems almost irrevocable.

The first point has to do with the very notion of the experiment: Ehud Barak, deeply familiar with scientific thought, was probably well aware that whoever conducts an experiment cannot participate in it – this is a completely basic scientific insight. Yet Barak obviously participated in his own experiment, and quite actively at that…….He totally ignored the need for confidence building measures; he put an end to Israel staged withdrawals from the territories, as envisaged in the Oslo process; he did not hand over any territory to the Palestinians throughout his term; he severed the deep relationships between Israeli and Palestinian peace-veterans; he authorised more building in the settlements than his right-wing predecessor Netanyahu; he humiliated Arafat and his staff from his first day in office; he never entered a process of negotiation with the Palestinians, but rather asked them to sign finalised dictates for agreements; he raised the sensitive issues of the division of Jerusalem and control of the Temple Mount without previous diplomatic groundwork; and mainly, he let it be felt all along that he thought of what he was doing was an experiment – with Arafat as his guinea pig.

Every one of these facts was reported in the newspapers during the month of October, but they always appeared in the weekend magazine sections and in section B of Ha’aretz – and they were never once mentioned in the newspapers headlines. Here are 3 examples out of many. In Yediot Ahronot’s political supplement on October 13, Sima Kadmon reports a special cabinet meeting,
The question hovered in the air, but no one dared ask it: how did we come to this pass? Everyone knew the answer. It had to do with the personality of the person in charge of negotiations, namely, the PM. With Barak it was all or nothing. Black or white – retreat from Lebanon within a year; reach a pace agreement with the Palestinians within 15 months; a comprehensive agreement- or no agreement at all; the end of the conflict, or nothing………Barak thought he knew better. He gambled.”

That same day Chemi Shalev published a similar article in Ma’ariv’s political supplement. Shalev reports the opposition to Barak within his cabinet and says that “more than a few cabinet members are critical of the tactics he adopted, the steps he initiated and the efforts he aborted. But these are days of national rallying, of consensual defensiveness, and when the guns roar, the critics are silent”. Shalev goes on to say,
Barak does not admit to any mistake, of course, and rightly so, as far as he is concerned. If indeed his steering was misguided, then perhaps we really didn’t have to come to this, perhaps someone else could have gotten different results with the same starting point, and then it would be impossible to say that we had no choice. Nevertheless, here is a partial list of things that could have been done differently:

a) Channelling the conflict into a situation of black and white dichotomy – agreement or conflict, with no middle ground, no shades of gray…...Barak went for the all-or-nothing approach. Not only did he fail to leave himself escape exits, he was quick to block those that others tried to open.

b) Unleashing the religious demons as a direct result of the need to discuss the holiest of holies on the way to the “end of conflict”….and the failure to prevent Ariel Sharons visit to the place…

c) Ignoring the personal dimension of the conflict; the lack of respect and the deprecation he often showed Yasser Arafat

d) The attempt to dictate, from the outset, all the rules of the game, from A to Z, including non-viable framework agreements, meaningless deadlines, and the procrastinating, patronizing attitude towards the Palestinians. First he asked for two months time for thought, then he turned up with the synergetic and simultaneous peace vision, and later he ordered the Palestinians to sit back and wait till he finished his flirt with Assad. Finally he brought them back on stage, and still complained that they were not in as much of a rush as he was.

e) Publicly and blatantly cornering Arafat in the international arena, starting with Clintons one sided speech in July…

And finally, here is a paragraph from an article by Akiva Eldar, published on October 30, on page 3 of Ha’aretz’s section B,
According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, Sharon does not need to join the government. Barak is doing his work better than Sharon did, and even better than Netanyahu. In the second quarter this year, there was a 51% rise in new building in the territories……All-in-all, during the first half of 2000, Baraks government has outdone the rate of the Netanyahu administration during the same term last year by 44%.”

These are not political claims raised by radicals in the opposition but facts of crucial news value…..and none of the newspapers take notice, and none of these facts ever appear in a single headline in the news pages.

This then is the first point: Barak ran his diplomatic affairs in a way that contradicted, by definition, the image of an objective experimenter testing the possibility of achieving peace…..It is certainly possible that Barak sincerely thought he was “turning every stone” on the way to peace; it is certainly possible that he thought he could put an end to the conflict with the Palestinians within fifteen months. But Barak’s private perspective was not supposed to win automatic acceptance from the newspapers – they should have examined the possibility that Barak actively contributed to the collapse of the peace process. This simply never happened.

The second point has to do with the experiments basic assumption – the assertion that the Intifada broke out , as Shavit put it, “just after Israel offered…to put an end to the occupation, recognise a Palestinian state, retreat from 95% of the territories, and even divide Jerusalem”.

What was the origin of this assertion? Did anyone know for a fact that Israel had indeed offered to put an end to the occupation, withdraw from 95% of the territories, and divide Jerusalem? It is indeed true that Barak told the journalists from time to time, but the fact is that throughout the month, and later as well, the newspapers never once tried to find out what exactly it was that Barak offered the Palestinians- not what Barak said he had offered, but what he had actually offered. Where exactly was the border supposed to lie? Which settlements were supposed to remain, and which were supposed to be evacuated? Did he, for instance, offer to dismantle the settlements in Kiryat Arba, a constant locus of friction with Palestinians in Hebron? And if not, in what sense did he offer to “put an end to occupation”? How many Palestinians were supposed to remain under Israeli sovereignty? How many seprate territories was the PA meant to be divided into as part of this agreement?……..

Such an examination could and should have also included real research into the Palestinian positions, publication of the maps Barak used (if indeed there were any) etc. Yet no such research was conducted, and the discussion about Arafat’s political intransigence was exclusively based on Barak’s suggestions. Consider, for instance the following…..published [in November] in section B of Ha’aretz,
Almost everyone in the political establishment now understands that peace, as well as this government, will stand or fall on the ‘Camp David understandings’ of July 2000. Almost no one knows what these understandings were. No one saw the document summing up these understandings, since there is no such document. Experienced diplomats cannot recall diplomatic talks of these kinds whose con
tent was not written down.

Ehud Barak’s version about turning every stone on the way to a peace agreement with the Palestinians was engraved in the public consciousness to such a degree that no one demands that he prove what he says…….The maps presenting Barak’s vision of the borders of the permanent status agreement were never revealed – not to the Palestinians, not to the Israeli public, not to cabinet members………When the impasse leads to fresh graves, the PM must stand up and present his proposal in full detail, so as to convince us that this is indeed a necessary war.”

The task of exposing his proposals fell of course to the media – the so-called watchdogs of democracy – but the papers preferred to keep their distance, and were content with stating that Barak did indeed “turn every stone” on his way to peace, and that Arafat had lost his sanity and was dragging the region to another war.

This version of events fits neatly within the view that Israel bears no responsibility for events. And the importance of this, is its corollary; if the situation is unrelated to Israel’s past actions, then there is no need for Israel to alter its policy and behaviour towards the Palestinians, as there will be no effect from such a change.

One manifestation of this is the oft heard lament there is no partner for peace”. Which is little more than an excuse. Whenever you hear this, just remember, it’s a desperate cry for Israel to be absolved of any responsibility for its actions.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Myths: Camp David and the “Generous Offer”

It’s time to look at another of the favourite myths that are the bread and butter of

This is the general thrust of it from our deluded Forum fanatics;

The single most generous offer by Israel to the Palestinian leadership since Rabin’s promise in l967 was the “second Camp David” meeting in July, 2000, where Ehud Baraq made his historic offer of 97% of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and a PA capitol in East Jerusalem, in return for an end to the conflict. To quote Tom Friedman, Israel extended the olive branch and Arafat torched it.

The real Camp David story is an especially interesting one, as it marks a break and a new phase of the conflict with regard to Israels approach to settling matters in it’s favour. While there is general continuity with some elements of Oslo, what marks Israeli PM Baraks’ approach as different, was his stated stand of a achieving final status agreements on all outstanding matters in one go. Baraks election campaign was based on his assertion that he, and he alone, could negotiate a final peace agreement Israels neighbours. His initial strategy was the Syrian track, but he baulked at continuing this Syrian track when he came to the realisation that peace could only be achieved in exchange for the Golan Heights., ie in accordance with UN Res 242.

Barak instead turned his attention, and his rapidly diminishing time, towards settling the conflict with the Palestinians. Adding to the sense of urgency for Barak, was that he understood that delivering on his promises of peace was his best chance of winning the elections against a resurgent Ariel Sharon. Again, it was Baraks contention that only he could achieve this, because of his special ‘understanding’ of the Palestinians. As events show, it was his complete lack of understanding of the realities of the Palestinian position that, in part, lead to the failure of Camp David.

Simultaneously another leader, Bill Clinton, was nearing the end of his term as US President, and was looking for a nice ‘legacy’ for his retirement mantelpiece – a final settlement to the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Initial US efforts to get Barak and Arafat together were difficult as Arafat contended that Palestinian negotiators were not yet ready and that a premature effort to negotiate would only gaurentee failure. The US and Israel pushed for the negotiations to begin, no doubt with much more thought given to the timing in relation to their respective political ambitions, than to the chances for a successful outcome. To overcome Arafats continued objections to the timing, Clinton personally guaranteed Arafat that he would not be blamed for any failure of the talks.

And so in July 2000 they began. It’s best to quote Robert Malley who was a member of the US team at Camp David, on the vague nature of the negotiations that later came to be described as an “offer”, in attempts to vilify Arafat and place all blame on the Palestinians,

The final and largely unnoticed consequence of Barak's approach is that, strictly speaking, there never was an Israeli offer. Determined to preserve Israel's position in the event of failure, and resolved not to let the Palestinians take advantage of one-sided compromises, the Israelis always stopped one, if not several, steps short of a proposal. The ideas put forward at Camp David were never stated in writing, but orally conveyed. They generally were presented as US concepts, not Israeli ones; indeed, despite having demanded the opportunity to negotiate face to face with Arafat, Barak refused to hold any substantive meeting with him at Camp David out of fear that the Palestinian leader would seek to put Israeli concessions on the record. Nor were the proposals detailed. If written down, the American ideas at Camp David would have covered no more than a few pages. Barak and the Americans insisted that Arafat accept them as general ‘bases for negotiations’ before launching into more rigorous negotiations.

As Malley pointed out there were no written offers, no maps presenting exactly what it was that Israeli claimed to have offered. Here are a few examples that are the best guesses that can be made as to what Israels ideas looked like on a map.

This is one opinion, and another from Dennis Ross's book on Camp David. Ross’s map fails to include most of the 10% of the West Bank that Israeli wanted to keep under ‘temporary’ Israeli control along the border with Jordan. This is the Gush Shalom view and another from Ron Punduk from the Peres Centre for Peace (PDF file – map on last page) and finally a map of the December 2000 'Clinton Plan' from the Foundation for Middle East Peace (PDF).

This just goes to show the reality of Camp David - the proposals were so vague that it is diffifcult to reach agreement on what they actually were.

One of the most outlandish claims made of the so-called generous offer, is that Israel was prepared to cede East Jerusalem to the Palestinians. As this has long been a Palestinian demand, this appears to back up the “generous offer” claims. In reality, the Israeli position at Camp David did not suggest ceding control of the area of annexed East Jerusalem. The Palestinians would be given sovereignty over the Christian and Muslim quarters of the old city and certain other Arab neighbourhoods. The extensively enlarged municipal limits as claimed by Israel in it’s 1980 annexation, would appear to have remained under Israeli control, and Israel had no intention of removing any of the illegal 200,000 Israeli settlers in East Jerusalem. In effect, East Jerusalem would remain significantly Israeli. This map shows the fiction of a Palestinian East Jerusalem under Baraks "generous offer".

Barak’s position was that Israel would keep the major settlement blocks in the West Bank, but there would be an exchange of land. And the generous part is that the land exchange would be at a roughly 9:1 ratio. That is, for each 9 dunams of land Israel proposed to keep in the West Bank, it would give the Palestinians 1 dunam in Israel. And that land area in Israel was almost certain to be the so-called ‘triangle’, an area of land on the West Bank border that has the highest concentrations of Palestinian-Israelis inside Israel. It was long been an aspiration to rid Israel of this particular ‘demographic threat’.

The myth goes that Israel offered 96% of the West Bank to Arafat. Leaving aside the fact that justice isn’t simple arithmetic, the claim itself is false. The areas of East Jersulam that Israel wanted to keep are simply left out of this calculation- they were not negotiable. What ever percentage figure one chooses to refer to, is the area Israel was prepared to negotiate over, which doesn’t include those parts that Israel had already decided belonged to it.

Another frequently referred to text in the “generous offer” myth is Dennis Ross’s book ‘The Missing Peace’. His book and frequent articles have lent credence to the idea that Israelis made an offer and it was generous. It’s best described as 800 pages of self-congratulation. Ross’s contention is based on a time limited perspective. The “generous offer” myth is based on the reality that Barak went further than any other Israeli in negotiations with the Palestinians. But this says far more about the reluctance of his predecessors, than about Baraks fabled generosity. And it is the subsequent Taba talks, 6 months later, that further expose Ross and the whole “generous offer” myth. In Taba, Israel moved closer to what Palestinians saw as the minimum acceptable offer. Israel dropped its demand for control of the Jordan valley and control of all external borders and accepted greater Palestinian sovereignty over East Jerusalem. These facts show that while Barak had gone further at Camp David than any previous Israeli leader, it was completely false to contend that; he “had left no stone unturned” as was repeatedly claimed, and that the vague proposals were anything approaching “generous”. Indeed, the subsequent developements at Taba show that Arafat, while suffering his own serious negotiating flaws, would have made a grave error if he were to have accepted Baraks "offer " at Camp David.

The idea of generosity in this context is turned completely on its head; Israel was not giving to the Palestinians from itself, but was simply returning to the Palestinians what was theirs. That returning only part of what is not yours, instead of all, can be construed as generosity, tells one a great deal about the prevailing dogmas on the Israel-Palestine conflict.