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

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.