By Stephen Sosebee, founder of the Palestine Children's Relief Fund who recently spent four months living and working on the West Bank. He lives in Kent.
The writer founded the Palestine Children's Relief Fund. He recently
spent four months living and working on the West Bank. He resides in Kent.
Time and again well-meaning liberal and conservative commentators have blamed the Palestinians and their leader for the tragic violence in the Holy Land. From the Israeli foreign minister to American pundits and elected representatives, the same view is articulated over and over to an unknowing American public: Yasser Arafat is responsible for the bloodshed because he turned down a most ``generous offer'' presented by the Israelis at Camp David in the summer of 2000.
A more detailed examination of what was really offered to the Palestinians by former Prime Minister Ehud Barak at Camp David, however, gives fair-minded people a far different conclusion.
The Palestinians were never offered anything that would provide a viable independent state and a final solution to the core issues of occupation, refugees, resources and Jerusalem. Arafat rejected an offer that any other leader with an ounce of dignity and respect for his people would have turned down.
As CIA analyst Graham E. Fuller recently wrote, ``Let's drop the Israeli myth that `the Palestinians walked away' from Ehud Barak's deal that `gave them almost everything they wanted.' The deal was badly flawed, as honest Israeli analysts themselves admit.... Short of what is required and what is just. No Palestinian leader could have signed it.''
For a true and lasting peace between Palestinians and Israelis, there must be two viable and independent states living as equal partners.
Israel's Camp David proposal, never set forth in writing, denied the Palestinians a viable state by dividing their land into four separate cantons entirely surrounded and therefore controlled by Israel. The Palestinians would be denied control over their own borders, airspace and water resources while illegal Israeli settlements on Palestinian land would be legitimized and expanded.
It was merely a repackaging of military occupation, not an end to it.
Common rhetoric surrounding Camp David states that the Palestinians turned down an offer giving them 95 percent of the territories occupied by Israel in 1967. The fact is, the Israelis sought to annex for their illegal settlements 9 percent of prime land in the occupied territories, which included 69 settlements housing 85 percent of the settler population.
In exchange, Israel offered only 1 percent of its own land (a toxic dump next to Gaza). Israel also sought to control another 10 percent of the occupied territories in the form of a ``long-term lease,'' which included dozens more of the most extreme religious settlements in the West Bank.
The issue for the Palestinians is not just percentages, but viability and independence. In a prison, for example, 95 percent of the prison compound is ostensibly for the prisoners -- cells, cafeteria, gym and library -- while the remaining 5 percent is all that is needed for the prison guards to maintain control over the prison population. Camp David did offer the Palestinians larger prison cells, but failed to end Israeli control over the Palestinian population.
As Norman Solomon, a syndicated columnist and media critic who has analyzed coverage of the Middle East, wrote recently, ``If a foreign power had been occupying your home for 35 years, how would you feel about the idea that it should `recognize the need' to leave most of it -- merely remaining in control of, say, all the hallways and doors.''
In addition to the lack of viability and independence, there were two other issues that caused the Palestinians to walk away from Camp David in July 2000: the status of occupied East Jerusalem and the right of return for Palestinian refugees.
Concerning East Jerusalem, Barak insisted at Camp David that the Palestinians give up any claim to the occupied portion of East Jerusalem, and would have forced recognition of Israel's illegal annexation of all of Arab East Jerusalem. Barak was prepared to give Palestinians limited sovereignty over isolated Palestinian neighborhoods in the heart of East Jerusalem, but they would have been surrounded by illegal settlements and cut off not only from each other, but also from the Palestinian state in the West Bank.
In effect, the proposal would have created Palestinian ghettos in the heart of Jerusalem.
Nothing is more emotionally significant to the Palestinians than the right of return for the millions who fled or were forced off their land in 1948 war. According to independent reports following Camp David, refugees were not seriously discussed because Barak declared Israel bore no responsibility for the refugee problem or its solution.
There is a clearly recognized right in international law that noncombatants who flee during a conflict have the right to return after that conflict is over. Palestinians have stated many times that Israel's recognition of this right does not mean that all refugees will exercise that right. What is needed, say Palestinians, is the recognition of refugee rights and the concept of choice.
Many refugees would opt to resettle within the borders of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, or resettle in a third country or accept normalization in the country where they currently reside with compensation for land and property lost. Palestinians have also stated a willingness to implement in phases the right of return so as to address Israel's demographic concerns.
It does little good for either side to continue to distort the basic facts of this conflict. The Palestinians have already made their historic compromise by accepting only 22 percent of their homeland in exchange for an end to Israeli occupation. Unfortunately, the ``generous offer'' proposed at Camp David was not a serious one, and the continued occupation of Palestinian land with no real end in sight is the cause of the current violence in the Holy Land.
Ending the military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, recognizing the basic rights of Palestinian refugees, establishing a viable demilitarized Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital and sharing the region's limited resources point the way out of this madness.
It is up to the Bush administration to do what is right and pressure the government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to abide by U.N. resolutions, international law and to accept the Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah's historic offer of full recognition and peace with the Arab world in exchange for the land occupied in 1967. Otherwise, the senseless violence will only continue to claim more innocent victims on both sides.