Barak shares blame for Camp David failure, says Clinton aide
By Robert Fisk Middle East Correspondent
23 July 2001
Just a year after the abortive Israeli-Palestinian "peace" talks at Camp
David, one of Israel's greatest public relations triumphs persuading the
world that the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, was to blame for the
collapse of the summit is turning into a hollow victory.

For despite Israeli and American claims that Mr Arafat turned down an offer
of "96 per cent" of the Palestinian occupied territories, one of former
president Bill Clinton's senior Middle East advisers now says that Mr
Clinton and the Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Barak, were equally responsible
for the failure of the Camp David initiative.

Writing in the New York Review of Books, Robert Malley, who was Mr Clinton's
special adviser on Arab-Israeli affairs, claims that Mr Barak failed to
honour previous Israeli agreements assurances which Mr Clinton had been
personally guaranteed to Mr Arafat. Mr Barak, the author writes, failed to
fulfil promises to withdraw from three villages around Jerusalem and to
release Palestinian prisoners provoking an angry confrontation with Mr
Clinton.

The article, which is co-authored with Hussein Agha, a former Arafat adviser
and university don, reveals only two of the reasons why Mr Arafat failed to
reach a peace agreement but already the claims have severely damaged
Israel's repeated assertion that the Palestinian leader "turned to violence"
after "massive concessions" from Israel.

Immediately after the Camp David talks broke down, Israel mounted a huge
public relations exercise to convince the international community that it
had made unprecedented offers to Mr Arafat which amounted to the return of
almost the entire occupied Palestinian territories. Israeli embassies wined
and dined Western newspaper editors with stories of the supposed 96 per cent
of land which was offered to Mr Arafat, repeating the tired old shibboleth
that the Palestinian leader "never lost an opportunity to lose an
opportunity".

Mr Clinton took the unprecedented step of appearing on Israeli television to
blame Mr Arafat. American journalists dutifully reported that the
Palestinian Authority president out of greed or stupidity had demanded
the return of 100 per cent of the occupied land and, failing to achieve
this, opted for a second intifada in which more than 600 men, women and
children, the vast majority of them Palestinians, have been killed by
Israeli soldiers, Jewish settlers, Palestinian guerrillas and suicide
bombers.

In reality, Palestinian officials and American sources the latter wisely
avoiding Israeli condemnation by talking anonymously have pointed out that
the figure of 96 per cent represented the percentage of the land over which
Israel was prepared to negotiate not 96 per cent of the entire West Bank
and Gaza Strip.

Left out of the equation was Arab east Jerusalem illegally annexed by
Israel after the 1967 Arab-Israeli Six Day War the huge belt of Jewish
settlements, including Male Adumim, around the city and a 10-mile wide
military buffer zone around the Palestinian territories.

Along with the obligation to lease back settlements built illegally under
international law on Arab land to Israel for 25 years, the total
Palestinian land from which Israel was prepared to withdraw came to only
around 46 per cent a far cry from the 96 per cent touted after Camp David.

With his usual inability to explain himself, Mr Arafat failed to explain
these details after Camp David, preferring to concentrate on Israel's
refusal to grant Palestinians sovereignty in east Jerusalem an important
symbolic point but by no means the only reason for Camp David's failure.

The Israelis had only offered the Palestinians "control" over some Arab
streets in Jerusalem a miniature version of the little "bantustans" that
already exist in the West Bank and "control" over the Al Aqsa mosque and
its surrounds, the territory beneath (including the remains of the Jewish
Temple) being under Israeli sovereignty. The Palestinians were apparently to
receive some territorial waters in the Dead Sea upon which they could
hardly build any houses.

Mr Malley's disclosures which do not include the percentage breakdown of
land to be offered back to Mr Arafat appear a little self-serving. By
making Mr Barak share the blame for the collapse of Camp David, he cleans up
Mr Clinton's image as a Middle East peacemaker, presenting him as a victim
of Mr Barak's double-cross as well as Mr Arafat's intransigence.

According to the two authors, Mr Barak decided, for domestic political
reasons, not to keep his promise to withdraw from the three villages outside
Jerusalem, allowing instead the rapid construction of new and illegal
Jewish settlements on Palestinian land.

He did not, the authors say, want to alienate the Israeli right wing before
a final peace settlement. Mr Arafat was therefore reluctant to attend the
talks even before they began and suspicious of Mr Barak because the latter
wanted to negotiate first with Syria.

The painful linguistic vice from which all US policy makers suffer in their
attempts to be even-handed while at the same time being Israel's closest
ally, was all too evident yesterday when the Arabs perused Washington's
reaction to the killing by Jewish settlers of two Palestinian civilians and
a three-month-old baby.

Never afraid to refer to the Palestinian murder of Israelis as "terrorism",
the State Department referred to the latest killings as a barbaric attack of
"unconscionable vigilantism".