Camp David and After: An Exchange
Source: The New York Review of Books, June 13, 2002
1. An Interview with Ehud
2. A Reply to Ehud Barak
By Benny Morris
1. An Interview with Ehud Barak
The following interview with
Ehud Barak took place in Tel Aviv
during late March and early April.
I have supplied explanatory references
in brackets with Mr. Barak's approval.
The call from Bill Clinton came
hours after the publication in The
New York Times of Deborah Sontag's "revisionist" article
("Quest for Middle East Peace: How
and Why It Failed," July 26, 2001)
on the Israeli-Palestinian peace
process. Ehud Barak, Israel's former
prime minister, on vacation, was
swimming in a cove in Sardinia. Clinton
said (according to Barak):
What the hell is this? Why is she turning
the mistakes we [i.e., the US and Israel]
made into the essence? The true story
of Camp David was that for the first
time in the history of the conflict
the American president put on the table
a proposal, based on UN Security Council
resolutions 242 and 338, very close
to the Palestinian demands, and Arafat
refused even to accept it as a basis
for negotiations, walked out of the
room, and deliberately turned to terrorism.
That's the real story-all the rest
Clinton was speaking of the two-week-long July 2000 Camp David conference
that he had organized and mediated and its failure, and the eruption at the
end of September of the Palestinian intifada, or campaign of anti-Israeli violence,
which has continued ever since and which currently plagues the Middle East,
with no end in sight. Midway in the conference, apparently on July 18, Clinton
had "slowly"-to avoid misunderstanding-read out to Arafat a document, endorsed
in advance by Barak, outlining the main points of a future settlement. The
proposals included the establishment of a demilitarized Palestinian state on
some 92 percent of the West Bank and 100 percent of the Gaza Strip, with some
territorial compensation for the Palestinians from pre-1967 Israeli territory;
the dismantling of most of the settlements and the concentration of the bulk
of the settlers inside the 8 percent of the West Bank to be annexed by Israel;
the establishment of the Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem, in which some
Arab neighborhoods would become sovereign Palestinian territory and others
would enjoy "functional autonomy"; Palestinian sovereignty over half the Old
City of Jerusalem (the Muslim and Christian quarters) and "custodianship," though
not sovereignty, over the Temple Mount; a return of refugees to the prospective
Palestinian state though with no "right of return" to Israel proper; and the
organization by the international community of a massive aid program to facilitate
the refugees' rehabilitation.
Arafat said "No." Clinton, enraged, banged on the table and said: "You are
leading your people and the region to a catastrophe." A formal Palestinian
rejection of the proposals reached the Americans the next day. The summit sputtered
on for a few days more but to all intents and purposes it was over.
Barak today portrays Arafat's behavior at Camp David as a "performance" geared
to exacting from the Israelis as many concessions as possible without ever
seriously intending to reach a peace settlement or sign an "end to the conflict." "He
did not negotiate in good faith, indeed, he did not negotiate at all. He just
kept saying 'no' to every offer, never making any counterproposals of his own," he
says. Barak continuously shifts between charging Arafat with "lacking the character
or will" to make a historic compromise (as did the late Egyptian President
Anwar Sadat in 1977-1979, when he made peace with Israel) and accusing him
of secretly planning Israel's demise while he strings along a succession of
Israeli and Western leaders and, on the way, hoodwinks "naive journalists"-in
Barak's phrase-like Sontag and officials such as former US National Security
Council expert Robert Malley (who, with Hussein Agha, published another "revisionist" article
on Camp David, "Camp David: The Tragedy of Errors" [*]).
According to Barak:
What they [Arafat and his colleagues] want is a Palestinian state in all of Palestine.
What we see as self-evident, [the need for] two states for two peoples, they
reject. Israel is too strong at the moment to defeat, so they formally recognize
it. But their game plan is to establish a Palestinian state while always leaving
an opening for further "legitimate" demands down the road. For now, they are
willing to agree to a temporary truce à la Hudnat Hudaybiyah [a temporary
truce that the Prophet Muhammad concluded with the leaders of Mecca during 628-629,
which he subsequently unilaterally violated]. They will exploit the tolerance
and democracy of Israel first to turn it into "a state for all its citizens," as
demanded by the extreme nationalist wing of Israel's Arabs and extremist left-wing
Jewish Israelis. Then they will push for a binational state and then, demography
and attrition will lead to a state with a Muslim majority and a Jewish minority.
This would not necessarily involve kicking out all the Jews. But it would mean
the destruction of Israel as a Jewish state. This, I believe, is their vision.
They may not talk about it often, openly, but this is their vision. Arafat sees
himself as a reborn Saladin-the Kurdish Muslim general who defeated the Crusaders
in the twelfth century -and Israel as just another, ephemeral Crusader state.
Barak believes that Arafat sees the Palestinian refugees of 1948 and their
descendants, numbering close to four million, as the main demographic-political
tool for subverting the Jewish state.
Arafat, says Barak, believes that Israel "has no right to exist, and he seeks
its demise." Barak buttresses this by arguing that Arafat "does not recognize
the existence of a Jewish people or nation, only a Jewish religion, because
it is mentioned in the Koran and because he remembers seeing, as a kid, Jews
praying at the Wailing Wall." This, Barak believes, underlay Arafat's insistence
at Camp David (and since) that the Palestinians have sole sovereignty over
the Temple Mount compound (Haram al-Sharif-the noble sanctuary) in the southeastern
corner of Jerusalem's Old City. Arafat denies that any Jewish temple has ever
stood there-and this is a microcosm of his denial of the Jews' historical connection
and claim to the Land of Israel/Palestine. Hence, in December 2000, Arafat
refused to accept even the vague formulation proposed by Clinton positing Israeli
sovereignty over the earth beneath the Temple Mount's surface area.
Barak recalls Clinton telling him that during the Camp David talks he had
attended Sunday services and the minister had preached a sermon mentioning
Solomon, the king who built the First Temple. Later that evening, he had met
Arafat and spoke of the sermon. Arafat had said: "There is nothing there [i.e.,
no trace of a temple on the Temple Mount]." Clinton responded that "not only
the Jews but I, too, believe that under the surface there are remains of Solomon's
temple." (At this point one of Clinton's [Jewish] aides whispered to the President
that he should tell Arafat that this is his personal opinion, not an official
Repeatedly during our prolonged interview, conducted in his office in a Tel
Aviv skyscraper, Barak shook his head-in bewilderment and sadness- at what
he regards as Palestinian, and especially Arafat's, mendacity:
They are products of a culture in which to tell a lie...creates no dissonance.
They don't suffer from the problem of telling lies that exists in Judeo-Christian
culture. Truth is seen as an irrelevant category. There is only that which serves
your purpose and that which doesn't. They see themselves as emissaries of a national
movement for whom everything is permissible. There is no such thing as "the truth."
Speaking of Arab society, Barak recalls: "The deputy director of the US Federal
Bureau of Investigation once told me that there are societies in which lie
detector tests don't work, societies in which lies do not create cognitive
dissonance [on which the tests are based]." Barak gives an example: back in
October 2000, shortly after the start of the current Intifada, he met with
then Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Arafat in the residence of the
US ambassador in Paris. Albright was trying to broker a cease-fire. Arafat
had agreed to call a number of his police commanders in the West Bank and Gaza,
including Tawfik Tirawi, to implement a truce. Barak said:
I interjected: "But these are not the people organizing the violence. If you
are serious [in seeking a cease-fire], then call Marwan Bargouti and Hussein
al-Sheikh" [the West Bank heads of the Fatah, Arafat's own political party, who
were orchestrating the violence. Bargouti has since been arrested by Israeli
troops and is currently awaiting trial for launching dozens of terrorist attacks].
Arafat looked at me, with an expression of blank innocence, as if I had mentioned
the names of two polar bears, and said: "Who? Who?" So I repeated the names,
this time with a pronounced, clear Arabic inflection-"Mar-wan Bar-gou-ti" and "Hsein
a Sheikh"- and Arafat again said, "Who? Who?" At this, some of his aides couldn't
stop themselves and burst out laughing. And Arafat, forced to drop the pretense,
agreed to call them later. [Of course, nothing happened and the shooting continued.]
But Barak is far from dismissive of Arafat, who appears to many Israelis to
be a sick, slightly doddering buffoon and, at the same time, sly and murderous.
Barak sees him as "a great actor, very sharp, very elusive, slippery." He cautions
that Arafat "uses his broken English" to excellent effect.
Barak was elected prime minister, following three years of Benjamin Netanyahu's
premiership, in May 1999 and took office in July. He immediately embarked on
his multipronged peace effort-vis-à-vis Syria, Lebanon, and the Palestinians-feeling
that Israel and the Middle East were headed for "an iceberg and a certain crash
and that it was the leaders' moral and political responsibility to try to avoid
a catastrophe." He understood that the year and a half left of Clinton's presidency
afforded a small window of opportunity inside a larger, but also limited, regional
window of opportunity. That window was opened by the collapse of the Soviet
Empire, which had since the 1950s supported the Arabs against Israel, and the
defeat of Iraq in Kuwait in 1991, and would close when and if Iran and/or Iraq
obtained nuclear weapons and when and if Islamic fundamentalist movements took
over states bordering Israel.
Barak said he wanted to complete what Rabin had begun with the Oslo agreement,
which inaugurated mutual Israeli-Palestinian recognition and partial Israeli
withdrawals from the West Bank and Gaza Strip back in 1993. A formal peace
agreement, he felt, would not necessarily "end the conflict, that will take
education over generations, but there is a tremendous value to an [official]
framework of peace that places pacific handcuffs on these societies." Formal
peace treaties, backed by the international community, will have "a dynamic
of their own, reducing the possibility of an existential conflict. But without
such movement toward formal peace, we are headed for the iceberg." He seems
to mean something far worse than the current low-level Israeli-Palestinian
Barak says that, before July 2000, IDF intelligence gave the Camp David talks
less than a 50 percent chance of success. The intelligence chiefs were doubtful
that Arafat "would take the decisions necessary to reach a peace agreement." His
own feeling at the time was that he "hoped Arafat would rise to the occasion
and display something of greatness, like Sadat and Hussein, at the moment of
truth. They did not wait for a consensus [among their people], they decided
to lead. I told Clinton on the first day [of the summit] that I didn't know
whether Arafat had come to make a deal or just to extract as many political
concessions as possible before he, Clinton, left office."
Barak dismisses the charges leveled by the Camp David "revisionists" as Palestinian
propaganda. The visit to the Temple Mount by then Likud leader Ariel Sharon
in September 2000 was not what caused the intifada, he says.
Sharon's visit, which was coordinated with [Palestinian Authority West Bank security
chief] Jibril Rajoub, was directed against me, not the Palestinians, to show
that the Likud cared more about Jerusalem than I did. We know, from hard intelligence,
that Arafat [after Camp David] intended to unleash a violent confrontation, terrorism.
[Sharon's visit and the riots that followed] fell into his hands like an excellent
excuse, a pretext.
As agreed, Sharon had made no statement and had refrained from entering the
Islamic shrines in the compound in the course of the visit. But rioting broke
out nonetheless. The intifada, says Barak, "was preplanned, pre-prepared. I
don't mean that Arafat knew that on a certain day in September [it would be
unleashed].... It wasn't accurate, like computer engineering. But it was definitely
on the level of planning, of a grand plan."
Nor does Barak believe that the IDF's precipitate withdrawal from the Security
Zone in Southern Lebanon, in May 2000, set off the intifada. "When I took office
[in July 1999] I promised to pull out within a year. And that is what I did." Without
doubt, the Palestinians drew inspiration and heart from the Hezbollah's successful
guerrilla campaign during 1985-2000, which in the end drove out the IDF, as
well as from the spectacle of the sometime slapdash, chaotic pullout at the
end of May; they said as much during the first months of the intifada. "But
had we not withdrawn when we did, the situation would have been much worse," Barak
We would have faced a simultaneous struggle on two fronts, in Palestine and in
southern Lebanon, and the Hezbollah would have enjoyed international legitimacy
in their struggle against a foreign occupier.
The lack of international legitimacy, Barak stresses, following the Israeli
pullback to the international frontier, is what has curtailed the Hezbollah's
attacks against Israel during the past weeks. "Had we still been in Leb-anon
we would have had to mobilize 100,000, not 30,000, reserve soldiers [in April,
during 'Operation Defensive Wall']," he adds. But he is aware that the sporadic
Hezbollah attacks might yet escalate into a full-scale Israeli- Lebanese-Syrian
confrontation, something the pullback had been designed -and so touted-to avoid.
As to the charge raised by the Palestinians, and, in their wake, by Deborah
Sontag, and Malley and Agha, that the Palestinians had been dragooned into
coming to Camp David "unprepared" and prematurely, Barak is dismissive to the
point of contempt. He observes that the Palestinians had had eight years, since
1993, to prepare their positions and fall-back positions, demands and red lines,
and a full year since he had been elected to office and made clear his intention
to go for a final settlement. By 2002, he said, they were eager to establish
which is what I and Clinton proposed and offered. And before the summit, there
were months of discussions and contacts, in Stockholm, Israel, the Gaza Strip.
Would they really have been more "prepared" had the summit been deferred to August,
as Arafat later said he had wanted?
One senses that Barak feels on less firm ground when he responds to the "revisionist" charge
that it was the continued Israeli settlement in the Occupied Territories, during
the year before Camp David and under his premiership, that had so stirred Palestinian
passions as to make the intifada inevitable:
Look, during my premiership we established no new settlements and, in fact, dismantled
many illegal, unauthorized ones. Immediately after I took office I promised Arafat:
No new settlements-but I also told him that we would continue to honor the previous
government's commitments, and contracts in the pipeline, concerning the expansion
of existing settlements. The courts would force us to honor existing contracts,
I said. But I also offered a substantive argument. I want to reach peace during
the next sixteen months. What was now being built would either remain within
territory that you, the Palestinians, agree should remain ours-and therefore
it shouldn't matter to you-or would be in territory that would soon come under
Palestinian sovereignty, and therefore would add to the housing available for
returning refugees. So you can't lose.
But Barak concedes that while this sounded logical, there was a psychological
dimension here that could not be neutralized by argument: the Palestinians
simply saw, on a daily basis, that more and more of "their" land was being
plundered and becoming "Israeli." And he agrees that he allowed the expansion
of existing settlements in part to mollify the Israeli right, which he needed
quiescent as he pushed forward toward peace and, ultimately, a withdrawal from
Regarding the core of the Israeli-American proposals, the "revisionists" have
charged that Israel offered the Palestinians not a continuous state but a collection
of "bantustans" or "cantons." "This is one of the most embarrassing lies to
have emerged from Camp David," says Barak.
I ask myself why is he [Arafat] lying. To put it simply, any proposal that offers
92 percent of the West Bank cannot, almost by definition, break up the territory
into noncontiguous cantons. The West Bank and the Gaza Strip are separate, but
that cannot be helped [in a peace agreement, they would be joined by a bridge].
But in the West Bank, Barak says, the Palestinians were promised a continuous
piece of sovereign territory except for a razor-thin Israeli wedge running
from Jerusalem through from Maale Adumim to the Jordan River. Here, Palestinian
territorial continuity would have been assured by a tunnel or bridge:
The Palestinians said that I [and Clinton] presented our proposals as a diktat,
take it or leave it. This is a lie. Everything proposed was open to continued
negotiations. They could have raised counter-proposals. But they never did.
Barak explains Arafat's "lie" about "bantustans" as stemming from his fear
that "when reasonable Palestinian citizens would come to know the real content
of Clinton's proposal and map, showing what 92 percent of the West Bank means,
they would have said: 'Mr. Chairman, why didn't you take it?'"
In one other important way the "revisionist" articles are misleading: they
focused on Camp David (July 2000) while almost completely ignoring the follow-up
(and more generous) Clinton proposals (endorsed by Israel) of December 2000
and the Palestinian- Israeli talks at Taba in January 2001. The "revisionists," Barak
implies, completely ignored the shift-under the prodding of the intifada-in
the Israeli (and American) positions between July and the end of 2000. By December
and January, Israel had agreed to Washington's proposal that it withdraw from
about 95 percent of the West Bank with substantial territorial compensation
for the Palestinians from Israel proper, and that the Arab neighborhoods of
Jerusalem would become sovereign Palestinian territory. The Israelis also agreed
to an international force at least temporarily controlling the Jordan River
line between the West Bank and the Kingdom of Jordan instead of the IDF. (But
on the refugee issue, which Barak sees as "existential," Israel had continued
to stand firm: "We cannot allow even one refugee back on the basis of the 'right
of return,'" says Barak. "And we cannot accept historical responsibility for
the creation of the problem.")
Had the Palestinians, even at that late date, agreed, there would have been
a peace settlement. But Arafat dragged his feet for a fortnight and then responded
to the Clinton proposals with a "Yes, but..." that, with its hundreds of objections,
reservations, and qualifications, was tantamount to a resounding "No." Palestinian
officials maintain to this day that Arafat said "Yes" to the Clinton proposals
of December 23. But Dennis Ross, Clinton's special envoy to the Middle East,
in a recent interview (on Fox News, April 21, 2002), who was present at the
Arafat-Clinton White House meeting on January 2, says that Arafat rejected "every
single one of the ideas" presented by Clinton, even Israeli sovereignty over
the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem's Old City. And the "Palestinians would have
[had] in the West Bank an area that was contiguous. Those who say there were
cantons, [that is] completely untrue." At Taba, the Palestinians seemed to
soften a little-for the first time they even produced a map seemingly conceding
2 percent of the West Bank. But on the refugees they, too, stuck to their guns,
insisting on Israeli acceptance of "the right of return" and on Jerusalem,
that they have sole sovereignty over the Temple Mount.
Several "revisionists" also took Barak to task for his "Syria first" strategy:
soon after assuming office, he tried to make peace with Syria and only later,
after Damascus turned him down, did he turn to the Palestinians. This had severely
taxed the Palestinians' goodwill and patience; they felt they were being sidelined.
Barak concedes the point, but explains:
I always supported Syria first. Because they have a [large] conventional army
and nonconventional weaponry, chemical and biological, and missiles to deliver
them. This represents, under certain conditions, an existential threat. And after
Syria comes Lebanon [meaning that peace with Syria would immediately engender
a peace treaty with Lebanon]. Moreover, the Syrian problem, with all its difficulties,
is simpler to solve than the Palestinian problem. And reaching peace with Syria
would greatly limit the Palestinians' ability to widen the conflict. On the other
hand, solving the Palestinian problem will not diminish Syria's ability to existentially
Barak says that this was also Rabin's thinking. But he points out that when
he took office, he immediately informed Arafat that he intended to pursue an
agreement with Syria and that this would in no way be at the Palestinians'
expense. "I arrived on the scene immediately after [Netanyahu's emissary Ronald]
Lauder's intensive [secret] talks, which looked very interesting. It was a
Syrian initiative that looked very close to a breakthrough. It would have been
very irresponsible not to investigate this because of some traditional, ritual
The Netanyahu-Lauder initiative, which posited an Israeli withdrawal from
the Golan Heights to a line a few kilometers east of the Jordan River and the
Sea of Galilee, came to naught because two of Netanyahu's senior ministers,
Sharon and Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai, objected to the proposed concessions.
Barak offered then President Hafiz Assad more, in effect a return to the de
facto border of "4 June 1967" along the Jordan River and almost to the shoreline
at the northeastern end of the Sea of Galilee. Assad, by then feeble and close
to death, rejected the terms, conveying his rejection to President Clinton
at the famous meeting in Geneva on March 26, 2000. Barak explains,
Assad wanted Israel to capitulate in advance to all his demands. Only then would
he agree to enter into substantive negotiations. I couldn't agree to this. We
must continue to live [in the Middle East] afterward [and, had we made the required
concessions, would have been seen as weak, inviting depredation].
But Barak believes that Assad's effort, involving a major policy switch, to
reach a peace settlement with Israel was genuine and sincere.
Barak appears uncomfortable with the "revisionist" charge that his body language
toward Arafat had been unfriendly and that he had, almost consistently during
Camp David, avoided meeting the Palestinian leader, and that these had contributed
to the summit's failure. Barak:
I am the Israeli leader who met most with Arafat. He visited Rabin's home only
after [the assassinated leader] was buried on Mount Herzl [in Jerusalem]. He
[Arafat] visited me in my home in Kochav Yair where my wife made food for him.
[Arafat's aide] Abu Mazen and [my wife] Nava swapped memories about Safad, her
mother was from Safad, and both their parents were traders. I also met Arafat
in friends' homes, in Gaza, in Ramallah.
Barak says that they met "almost every day" in Camp David at mealtimes and
had one "two-hour meeting" in Arafat's cottage. He admits that the time had
been wasted on small talk-but, in the end, he argues, this is all part of the "gossip," not
the real reason for the failure. "Did Nixon meet Ho Chi Minh or Giap [before
reaching the Vietnam peace deal]? Or did De Gaulle ever speak to [Algerian
leader] Ben Bella? The right time for a meeting between us was when things
were ready for a decision by the leaders...." Barak implies that the negotiations
had never matured or even come close to the point where the final decision-making
meeting by the leaders was apt and necessary.
Barak believes that since the start of the intifada Israel has had no choice-"and
it doesn't matter who is prime minister" (perhaps a jab at his former rival
and colleague in the Labor Party, the dovish-sounding Shimon Peres, currently
Israel's foreign minister)- but to combat terrorism with military force. The
policy of "targeted killings" of terrorist organizers, bomb-makers, and potential
attackers began during his premiership and he still believes it is necessary
and effective, "though great care must be taken to limit collateral damage.
Say you live in Chevy Chase and you know of someone who is preparing a bomb
in Georgetown and intends to launch a suicide bomber against a coffee shop
outside your front door. Wouldn't you do something? Wouldn't it be justified
to arrest this man and, if you can't, to kill him?" he asks.
Barak supported Sharon's massive incursion in April-"Operation Defensive Wall"-into
the Palestinian cities-Nablus, Jenin, Bethlehem, Ramallah, Qalqilya, and Tulkarm-but
suggests that he would have done it differently:
More forcefully and with greater speed, and simultaneously against all the cities,
not, as was done, in staggered fashion. And I would argue with the confinement
of Arafat to his Ramallah offices. The present situation, with Arafat eyeball
to eyeball with [Israeli] tank gun muzzles but with an in-surance policy [i.e.,
Israel's promise to President Bush not to harm him], is every guerrilla leader's
wet dream. But, in general, no responsible government, following the wave of
suicide bombings culminating in the Passover massacre [in which twenty-eight
Israelis were murdered and about 100 injured in a Netanya hotel while sitting
at the seder] could have acted otherwise.
But he believes that the counter-terrorist military effort must be accompanied
by a constant reiteration of readiness to renew peace negotiations on the basis
of the Camp David formula. He seems to be hinting here that Sharon, while also
interested in political dialogue, rejects the Camp David proposals as a basis.
Indeed, Sharon said in April that his government will not dismantle any settlements,
and will not discuss such a dismantling of settlements, before the scheduled
November 2003 general elections. Barak fears that in the absence of political
dialogue based on the Camp David-Clinton proposals, the vacuum created will
be filled by proposals, from Europe or Saudi Arabia, that are less agreeable
Barak seems to hold out no chance of success for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations,
should they somehow resume, so long as Arafat and like-minded leaders are at
the helm on the Arab side. He seems to think in terms of generations and hesitantly
predicts that only "eighty years" after 1948 will the Palestinians be historically
ready for a compromise. By then, most of the generation that experienced the
catastrophe of 1948 at first hand will have died; there will be "very few 'salmons'
around who still want to return to their birthplaces to die." (Barak speaks
of a "salmon syndrome" among the Palestinians-and says that Israel, to a degree,
was willing to accommodate it, through the family reunion scheme, allowing
elderly refugees to return to be with their families before they die.) He points
to the model of the Soviet Union, which collapsed roughly after eighty years,
after the generation that had lived through the revolution had died. He seems
to be saying that revolutionary movements' zealotry and dogmatism die down
after the passage of three generations and, in the case of the Palestinians,
the disappearance of the generation of the nakba , or catastrophe,
of 1948 will facilitate compromise.
I asked, "If this is true, then your peace effort vis-à-vis the Palestinians
was historically premature and foredoomed?"
Barak: "No, as a responsible leader I had to give it a try."
In the absence of real negotiations, Barak believes that Israel should begin
to unilaterally prepare for a pullout from "some 75 percent" of the West Bank
and, he implies, all or almost all of the Gaza Strip, back to defensible borders,
while allowing a Palestinian state to emerge there. Meanwhile Israel should
begin constructing a solid, impermeable fence around the evacuated parts of
the West Bank and new housing and settlements inside Israel proper and in the
areas of the West Bank that Israel intends to permanently annex (such as the
Etzion Block area, south of Bethlehem) to absorb the settlers who will be moving
out of the territories. He says that when the Palestinians will be ready for
peace, the fate of the remaining 25 percent of the West Bank can be negotiated.
Barak is extremely troubled by the problem posed by Israel's Arab minority,
representing some 20 percent of Israel's total population of some 6.5 million.
Their leadership over the past few years has come to identify with Arafat and
the PA, and an increasing number of Israeli Arabs, who now commonly refer to
themselves as "Palestinian Arabs," oppose Israel's existence and support the
Palestinian armed struggle. A growing though still very small number have engaged
in terrorism, including one of the past months' suicide bombers. Barak agrees
that, in the absence of a peace settlement with the Palestinians, Israel's
Arabs constitute an irredentist "time bomb," though he declines to use the
phrase. At the start of the intifada Israel's Arabs rioted around the country,
blocking major highways with stones and Molotov cocktails. In response, thirteen
were killed by Israeli policemen, deepening the chasm between the country's
Jewish majority and Arab minority.
The relations between the two have not recovered and the rhetoric of the Israeli
Arab leadership has grown steadily more militant. One Israeli Arab Knesset
member, Azmi Bishara, is currently on trial for sedition. If the conflict with
the Palestinians continues, says Barak, "Israel's Arabs will serve as [the
Palestinians'] spearpoint" in the struggle:
This may necessitate changes in the rules of the democratic game ...in order
to assure Israel's Jewish character.
He raises the possibility that in a future deal, some areas with large Arab
concentrations, such as the "Little Triangle" and Umm al-Fahm, bordering on
the West Bank, could be transferred to the emergent Palestinian Arab state,
along with their inhabitants:
But this could only be done by agreement-and I don't recommend that government
spokesmen speak of it [openly]. But such an exchange makes demographic sense
and is not inconceivable.
Barak is employed as a senior adviser to an American company, Electronic Data
Systems, and is considering a partnership in a private equity company, where
he will be responsible for "security-related" ventures. I asked him, "Do you
see yourself returning to politics?" Barak answered,
Look, the public [decisively] voted against me a year ago. I feel like a reserve
soldier who knows he might be called upon to come back but expects that he won't
be unless it is absolutely necessary. But it's not inconceivable. After all,
Rabin returned to the premiership fifteen years after the end of his first term
At one point in the interview, Barak pointed to the settlement campaign in
heavily populated Palestinian areas, inaugurated by Menachem Begin's Likud-led
government in 1977, as the point at which Israel took a major historical wrong
turn. But at other times Barak pointed to 1967 as the crucial mistake, when
Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza (and Sinai and the Golan Heights) and,
instead of agreeing to immediate withdrawal from all the territories, save
East Jerusalem, in exchange for peace, began to settle them. Barak recalled
seeing David Ben-Gurion, Israel's founder and first prime minister (1948-1953
and 1955- 1963), on television in June 1967 arguing for the immediate withdrawal
from all the territories occupied in the Six- Day War in exchange for peace,
save for East Jerusalem.
Many of us-me included- thought that he was suffering from [mental] weakness
or perhaps a subconscious jealousy of his successor [Levi Eshkol, who had presided
over the unprecedented victory and conquests]. Today one understands that he
simply saw more clearly and farther than the leadership at that time.
How does Barak see the Middle East in a hundred years' time? Would it contain
a Jewish state? Unlike Arafat, Barak believes it will, "and it will be strong
and prosperous. I really think this. Our connection to the Land of Israelis
is not like the Crusaders'.... Israel fits into the zeitgeist of our era. It
is true that there are demographic threats to its existence. That is why a
separation from the Palestinians is a compelling imperative. Without such a
separation [into two states] there is no future for the Zionist dream."
New York Review , August 9, 2001.
By Hussein Agha, Robert Malley
2. A Reply to Ehud Barak
Both sides in the Israeli-Palestinian
war have several targets in mind, and public opinion is not the least of them.
The Camp David summit ended almost two years ago; the Taba negotiations were
abandoned in January 2001; Ariel Sharon has made no secret of his rejection
of the Oslo process, not to mention the positions taken by Israel at Camp David
or in Taba; and the confrontation between the two sides has had disastrous
consequences. Yet in the midst of it all, the various interpretations of what
happened at Camp David and its aftermath continue to draw exceptional attention
both in Israel and in the United States.
Ehud Barak's interview with Benny Morris makes it clear why that is the case:
Barak's assessment that the talks failed because Yasser Arafat cannot make
peace with Israel and that his answer to Israel's unprecedented offer was to
resort to terrorist violence has become central to the argument that Israel
is in a fight for its survival against those who deny its very right to exist.
So much of what is said and done today derives from and is justified by that
crude appraisal. First, Arafat and the rest of the Palestinian leaders must
be supplanted before a meaningful peace process can resume, since they are
the ones who rejected the offer. Second, the Palestinians' use of violence
has nothing to do with ending the occupation since they walked away from the
possibility of reaching that goal at the negotiating table not long ago. And,
finally, Israel must crush the Palestinians-"badly beat them" in the words
of the current prime minister-if an agreement is ever to be reached.
The one-sided account that was set in motion in the wake of Camp David has
had devastating effects-on Israeli public opinion as well as on US foreign
policy. That was clear enough a year ago; it has become far clearer since.
Rectifying it does not mean, to quote Barak, engaging in "Palestinian propaganda." Rather,
it means taking a close look at what actually occurred.
Barak's central thesis is that the current Palestinian leadership wants "a
Palestinian state in all of Palestine. What we see as self-evident, two states
for two peoples, they reject." Arafat, he concludes, seeks Israel's "demise." Barak
has made that claim repeatedly, both here and elsewhere, and indeed it forms
the crux of his argument. His claim therefore should be taken up, issue by
On the question of the boundaries of the future state, the Palestinian position,
formally adopted as early as 1988 and frequently reiterated by Palestinian
negotiators throughout the talks, was for a Palestinian state based on the
June 4, 1967, borders, living alongside Israel. At Camp David (at which one
of the present writers was a member of the US administration's team), Arafat's
negotiators accepted the notion of Israeli annexation of West Bank territory
to accommodate settlements, though they insisted on a one-for-one swap of land "of
equal size and value." The Palestinians argued that the annexed territory should
neither affect the contiguity of their own land nor lead to the incorporation
of Palestinians into Israel.
The ideas put forward by President Clinton at Camp David fell well short of
those demands. In order to accommodate Israeli settlements, he proposed a deal
by which Israel would annex 9 percent of the West Bank in exchange for turning
over to the Palestinians parts of pre-1967 Israel equivalent to 1 percent of
the West Bank. This proposal would have entailed the incorporation of tens
of thousands of additional Palestinians into Israeli territory near the annexed
settlements; and it would have meant that territory annexed by Israel would
encroach deep inside the Palestinian state. In his December 23, 2000, proposals-called "parameters" by
all parties-Clinton suggested an Israeli annexation of between 4 and 6 percent
of the West Bank in exchange for a land swap of between 1 and 3 percent. The
following month in Taba, the Palestinians put their own map on the table which
showed roughly 3.1 percent of the West Bank under Israeli sovereignty, with
an equivalent land swap in areas abutting the West Bank and Gaza. [*]
On Jerusalem, the Palestinians accepted at Camp David the principle of Israeli
sovereignty over the Wailing Wall, the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, and
Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem-neighborhoods that were not part of
Israel before the 1967 Six-Day War-though the Palestinians clung to the view
that all of Arab East Jerusalem should be Palestinian.
In contrast to the issues of territory and Jerusalem, there is no Palestinian
position on how the refugee question should be dealt with as a practical matter.
Rather, the Palestinians presented a set of principles. First, they insisted
on the need to recognize the refugees' right of return, lest the agreement
lose all legitimacy with the vast refugee constituency-roughly half the entire
Palestinian population. Second, they acknowledged that Israel's demographic
interests had to be recognized and taken into account. Barak draws from this
the conclusion that the refugees are the "main demographic-political tool for
subverting the Jewish state." The Palestinian leadership's insistence on a
right of return demonstrates, in his account, that their conception of a two-state
solution is one state for the Palestinians in Palestine and another in Israel.
But the facts suggest that the Palestinians are trying (to date, unsuccessfully)
to reconcile these two competing imperatives-the demographic imperative and
the right of return. Indeed, in one of his last pre- Camp David meetings with
Clinton, Arafat asked him to "give [him] a reasonable deal [on the refugee
question] and then see how to present it as not betraying the right of return."
Some of the Palestinian negotiators proposed annual caps on the number of
returnees (though at numbers far higher than their Israeli counterparts could
accept); others wanted to create incentives for refugees to settle elsewhere
and disincentives for them to return to the 1948 land. But all acknowledged
that there could not be an unlimited, "massive" return of Palestinian refugees
to Israel. The suggestion made by some that the Camp David summit broke down
over the Palestinians' demand for a right of return simply is untrue: the issue
was barely discussed between the two sides and President Clinton's ideas mentioned
it only in passing. (In an Op-Ed piece in The New York Times this
February Arafat called for "creative solutions to the right of return while
respecting Israel's demographic concerns.")
The Palestinians did insist that Israel recognize that it bore responsibility
for creating the problem of the refugees. But it is ironic that Barak would
choose to convey his categorical rejection of any such Israeli historical responsibility
to Benny Morris, an Israeli historian called "revisionist" in large part for
his account of the origins of the displacement of the Palestinians and for
his conclusion that, while there were many reasons why the refugees left, Israeli
military attacks and expulsions were the major ones.
The Palestinians can be criticized for not having presented detailed proposals
at Camp David; but, as has been shown, it would be inaccurate to say they had
no positions. It also is true that Barak broke a number of Israeli taboos and
moved considerably from prior positions while the Palestinians believed they
had made their historic concessions at Oslo, when they agreed to cede 78 percent
of mandatory Palestine to Israel; they did not intend the negotiations to further
whittle down what they already regarded as a compromise position. But neither
the constancy of the Palestinians' view nor the unprecedented and evolving
nature of the Israelis' ought to have any bearing on the question of whether
the Palestinian leadership recognized Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state.
It is the substance of the Palestinian positions that should count.
Those Palestinian positions may well have been beyond what the Israeli people
can accept, particularly on the refugee question. But that is no more the question
than it is whether the Israeli position was beyond what the Palestinian people
can accept. And it is not the question that Barak purports to address in his
interview. The question is whether, as Barak claims, the Palestinian position
was tantamount to a denial of Israel's right to exist and to seeking its destruction.
The facts do not validate that claim. True, the Palestinians rejected the version
of the two-state solution that was put to them. But it could also be said that
Israel rejected the unprecedented two-state solution put to them by the Palestinians
from Camp David onward, including the following provisions: a state of Israel
incorporating some land captured in 1967 and including a very large majority
of its settlers; the largest Jewish Jerusalem in the city's history; preservation
of Israel's demographic balance between Jews and Arabs; security guaranteed
by a US-led international presence.
Barak's remarks about other Arab leaders are, in this regard, misplaced. Arafat
did not reach out to the people of Israel in the way President Sadat did. But
unlike Sadat, he agreed to cede parts of the territory that was lost in 1967-both
in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem. The reference to President Assad-whose
peace efforts are characterized as "genuine and sincere"-is particularly odd
since Assad turned down precisely what Arafat was requesting: borders based
on the lines of June 4, 1967, with one-for-one swaps.
Barak claims that "Israel is too strong at the moment to defeat, so [the Palestinians]
formally recognize it. But their game plan is to establish a Palestinian state
while always leaving an opening for further 'legitimate' demands down the road." But
here Barak contradicts himself. For if that were the case, the logical course
of action for Arafat would have been to accept Clinton's proposals at Camp
David, and even more so on December 23. He would then have had over 90 percent
of the land and much of East Jerusalem, while awaiting, as Barak would have
it, the opportunity to violate the agreement and stake out a claim for more.
Whatever else one may think of Arafat's behavior throughout the talks, it clearly
offers little to substantiate Barak's theory.
In his account of why the negotiations failed, Barak focuses only on the Palestinians'
deficiencies, and dismisses as trivial sideshows several major political decisions
that are crucial to the understanding of that failure. When he took office
he chose to renegotiate the agreement on withdrawal of Israeli forces from
the West Bank signed by Benjamin Netanyahu rather than implement it. He continued
and even intensified construction of settlements. He delayed talks on the Palestinian
track while he concentrated on Syria. He did not release Palestinian prisoners
detained for acts committed prior to the signing of the Oslo agreement. He
failed to carry out his commitments to implement the third territorial redeployment
of Israeli troops and the transfer of the three Jerusalem villages.
Barak is equally dismissive of the importance of his holding a substantive
meeting with Arafat at Camp David- though here one cannot help but be struck
by the contradiction between Barak's justification for that decision (namely
that "the right time for a meeting between us was when things were ready for
a decision by the leaders") and his conviction that a leaders' summit was necessary.
If he felt things were not ready for a decision by the leaders meeting together,
why insist on convening a leaders' summit in the first place?
More broadly, from a Palestinian perspective, the issues concerning the timing
of the talks were dealt with in ways that were both damaging and exasperating.
The Palestinian leaders had called for negotiations on a comprehensive settlement
between the two sides as early as the fall of 1999. They had asked for an initial
round of secret talks between Israelis and Palestinians who were not officials
in order to better prepare the ground. They had argued against holding the
Camp David summit at the time proposed, claiming it was premature and would
not lead to an agreement in view of the gaps between the two sides. They later
asked for a series of summit meetings following Camp David so as to continue
the talks. Each of their requests was denied.
In the fall of 1999, Barak was not ready for talks with the Palestinians and
chose to focus on Syria. He had no interest in discussions between nonofficials.
When, by the summer of 2000, he finally was ready (the negotiations with Syria
having failed), he insisted on going to Camp David without delay. And at Camp
David he reacted angrily to any suggestion of holding further summit meetings.
Barak, today, dismisses those Palestinian requests as mere pretexts and excuses.
But it is not clear why they should be taken any less seriously than the ones
he made, and on which he prevailed.
All these external political events surrounding the negotiations, in fact,
had critical implications for the negotiations themselves. The US administration
felt so at the time, seeking on countless occasions before, during, and after
the Camp David meetings to convince Barak to change his approach, precisely
because the administration feared his tactics would harm the prospects for
a deal. As has since become evident, the mood among critical Palestinian constituencies
had turned decidedly sour-a result of continued settlement construction, repeated
territorial closings that barred Palestinians from working in Israel, and their
humiliation and harassment at checkpoints. Confidence in the possibility of
a fair negotiated settlement was badly shaken. Israeli actions that strengthened
those trends further narrowed the Palestinian leaders' room to maneuver and
accentuated the sense of paralysis among them.
Barak's failure to recognize this is peculiar coming from a leader who was
so sensitive to the role of Israeli public opinion. As so many examples from
both the Syrian and Palestinian tracks illustrate, he was convinced that poor
management of domestic public opinion could scuttle the chances for a deal.
In his approach to the Israeli-Syrian negotiations, he went so far as to counsel
Clinton against moving too quickly toward agreement during the Sheperdstown
summit between the US, Israel, and Syria in January 2000, arguing that prolonged
talks were required to show the Israeli public that he had put up a tough fight.
In December, he had invoked the harsh statement of the Syrian foreign minister
on the White House lawn as a reason why he could not show flexibility in their
subsequent discussions at Blair House, arguing that the Israeli public would
feel he had displayed weakness. He repeatedly insisted on (but rarely obtained)
Syrian confidence-building measures in advance of the negotiations to help
him sell his proposals back home.
When dealing with the Palestinians, likewise, Barak evidently felt the pressures
of Israeli public opinion. He adamantly refused to discuss the issue of Jerusalem
prior to the Camp David summit, claiming that to do so would have "torpedoed" the
prospects for success. Settlement activity, to which both the Palestinians
and the US objected, nonetheless proceeded at an extraordinary pace-faster
than during Netanyahu's tenure, with over 22,000 more settlers. This was done,
as Barak concedes in his interview, in order to "mollify the Israeli right
which he needed quiescent as he pushed forward toward peace."
In short, Barak understood all too well how political developments surrounding
the negotiations could affect Israeli public opinion and, therefore, his own
ability to make agreements. Yet he showed no such comprehension when it came
to the possible effects of his policies on Arafat's own flexibility and capacity
to make compromises. That Arafat was unable either to obtain a settlement freeze
or to get Israel to carry out its prior commitments Barak views as inconsequential.
In reality, the cards Barak was saving to increase his room to maneuver during
the negotiations were precisely those the Palestinians needed to expand their
own room to maneuver. Ultimately, the Palestinian team that went to Camp David
was suspected by many Palestinians and other Arabs of selling out-incapable
of standing up to Israeli or American pressure.
Barak's apparent insensitivity to how his statements might affect the other
side is revealed in his interview with Benny Morris. He characterizes Palestinian
refugees as "salmons" whose yearning to return to their land somehow is supposed
to fade away in roughly eighty years in a manner that the Jewish people's never
did, even after two thousand years. When he denounces the idea that Israel
be a "state for all its citizens" he does not seem to realize he risks alienating
its many Arab citizens. Most troubling of all is his description of Arabs as
people who "don't suffer from the problem of telling lies that exists in Judeo-Christian
culture. Truth is seen as an irrelevant category." It is hard to know what
to make of this disparaging judgment of an entire people. In the history of
this particular conflict, neither Palestinians nor Israelis have a monopoly
on unkept commitments or promises.
By now, some of those who said that the Palestinians' rejection of the American
proposals at Camp David was definitive proof of their inability to make peace
have shifted their argument. Instead, they concentrate on President Clinton's
proposals of December 23, 2000, along with the Israeli- Palestinian talks that
took place at Taba, in January 2001, which Barak takes the so-called "revisionists" to
task for ignoring.
First, the facts. There is little doubt, as we described in our earlier article
for The New York Review of Books , that the ideas put forward by President
Clinton in December 2000 were a significant step in the direction of the Palestinians'
position. It is also beyond dis- pute that while the Israeli cabinet accepted
Clinton's "parameters," Arafat took his time, waiting ten days before offering
his response-a costly delay considering the fact that only thirty days remained
in Clinton's presidency.
When he finally met with Clinton, on January 2, 2001, Arafat explained that
he accepted the President's ideas with reservations and that Clinton could
tell Barak that "[I] accepted your parameters and have some views I must express.
At the same time, we know Israelis have views we must respect." His attitude,
basically, was that the parameters contained interesting elements that should
guide but not bind the negotiators. It is clearly an overstatement to claim
that Arafat rejected "every one" of the President's ideas, and it certainly
is not the message Clinton delivered to Barak.
On a more specific point, Arafat did not reject Israeli sovereignty over the
Wailing Wall but over the much larger Western Wall (of which it is a part),
which encroaches on the Muslim Quarter of the Old City. A few days later, Barak
presented his own reservations about Clinton's proposals in a private communication.
Again, however, it is the conclusion Barak draws from this episode that is
questionable. The Palestinians undoubtedly were not satisfied with Clinton's
parameters, which they wanted to renegotiate. They were not responding with
the same sense of urgency as the Americans or as Barak, who was facing elections
and knew the fate of the peace process could decide them. But unlike what had
happened at Camp David, there was no Palestinian rejection. On the contrary,
the two sides, which had engaged in secret meetings during the autumn, agreed
to continue talks at Taba. Indeed, the intensive talks that subsequently took
place there ended not for lack of an agreement but for lack of time in view
of the impending Israeli elections. In January Prime Minister Barak campaigned
seeking a mandate to continue those talks. He went so far as to authorize his
delegation at Taba to issue a joint statement with the Palestinians asserting
the two sides declare that they have never been closer to reaching an agreement
and it is thus our shared belief that the remaining gaps could be bridged with
the resumption of negotiations following the Israeli elections.
If we assume that Barak meant what the Taba statement said, that statement
simply cannot be reconciled with his current assertion that the Palestinians
are out to achieve the destruction of Israel. That statement also contradicts
the constantly made claim that Arafat simply rejected a historic chance to
negotiate a settlement.
The failure at Camp David and the start of the second Palestinian intifada
are directly linked in accounts by Barak and others to argue that Arafat's
response to the unprecedented offers was to scuttle negotiations and seek to
achieve his goals through terror.
Clearly, the Palestinian Authority did not do what it could to stop the uprising,
which some of its leaders felt might well serve its interests. It is equally
true that Palestinians initiated many acts of violence. Later on, as the conflict
continued and intensified, cooperation between the Palestinian Authority and
militant groups became much closer, and Palestinians engaged in repeated attacks
with the clear and deeply deplorable intent of killing as many Israeli civilians
as possible. But the charges against Arafat make another claim as well. He
is said to have unleashed a wave of terrorist violence in the aftermath of
Camp David as part of a grand scheme to pressure Israel; and Israel, it is
said, had no choice but to act precisely as it did in response to a war initiated
by others against its will. This assessment cannot be squared with the facts
stated in the Mitchell report, which describes an uprising that began as a
series of confrontations between largely unarmed Palestinians and armed Israeli
security forces that resorted to excessive and deadly use of force.
Barak entirely rejects the notion that Ariel Sharon's visit to the Temple
Mount/Haram al-Sharif on September 28, 2000, played any part in setting off
the subsequent clashes. To support his case, he asserts that the visit was
coordinated with Palestinian security officials. But that is hardly the point.
The point is that when we consider the context in which the visit was taking
place-the intense focus on the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif at Camp David and
the general climate among Palestinians-its impact was predictable. As Dennis
Ross, Clinton's special Middle East envoy, said: "I can think of a lot of bad
ideas, but I can't think of a worse one."
The Mitchell report says:
On the following day, in the same place, a large number of unarmed Palestinian
demonstrators and a large Israeli police contingent confronted each other. According
to the US Department of State, "Palestinians held large demonstrations and threw
stones in the vicinity of the Western Wall. Police used rubber-coated metal bullets
and live ammunition to disperse the demonstrators, killing 4 persons and injuring
about 200." According to the Government of Israel, 14 Israeli policemen were
From then on, the numbers of Palestinian deaths rose swiftly: twelve on September
30, twelve again on October 1, seventeen on October 2 (including seven Israeli
Arabs), four on October 3, and twelve (including one Israeli Arab) on October
4. By the end of the first week, over sixty Palestinians had been killed (including
nine Israeli Arabs). During that same time period, five Israelis were killed
According to the Mitchell report, for the first three months of the intifada, "most
incidents did not involve Palestinian use of firearms and explosives." The
report quotes the Israeli human rights organization B'Tselem as finding that "73
percent of the incidents [from September 29 to December 2, 2000] did not include
Palestinian gunfire. Despite this, it was in these incidents that most of the
Palestinians [were] killed and wounded." Numerous other organizations, including
the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Human Rights Watch,
and Physicians for Human Rights, criticized the excessive use of force by the
Israel Defense Forces, often against unarmed Palestinians.
Barak suggests that Arafat had planned as his response to the Camp David summit
a campaign of violent terror. That is a curious assertion in view of the fact
that the Palestinians had argued that the parties were not ready for a summit
and that Camp David should be understood as merely the first of a series of
meetings. In contrast, as he knows well, Barak conceived of Camp David as a
make-it-or-break-it summit. Defining the summit as a test of Arafat's true
intentions, he early made clear that he foresaw only two possible outcomes:
a full-scale agreement on the "framework" of a settlement, or a full-scale
Some things appear beyond dispute. The mood on the Palestinian street had
reached the boiling point, as the May 2000 violence had shown and as both American
and Israeli official reports had confirmed. Sharon's visit on the Haram was
both a pretext and a provocation, a case of the wrong person being at the wrong
place at the wrong time. A large number of Palestinians had lost patience with
the peace process and felt humiliated by their experience with the settlements
and at checkpoints; and many were impressed by the success of Hezbollah in
Lebanon, where Israel was believed to have decided to withdraw in the face
of armed resistance.
At a tactical level, the Palestinians may have seen some advantage to a short-lived
confrontation to show the Israelis they could not be taken for granted. The
Israeli security forces, for their part, were still affected by the bloody
experiences of September 1996 and of May 2000, during which Palestinian policemen
confronted Israelis. They were determined to stop any uprising at the outset,
using far greater force to subdue the enemy. Hence the Israeli decision to
use lethal weapons, and hence the very heavy (and almost entirely Palestinian)
toll of death and grave injury in the early days of the intifada. That, in
turn, made it, if not impossible, at least very difficult for the Palestinian
leadership to bring things under control; rather, it increased pressure to
respond in kind. Some among the Palestinian leaders may have hoped that the
uprising would last a few days. The Israelis expected their strong reaction
to stop it in its tracks. Instead, in this tragic game, in which both sides
were reading from different scripts, the combination of the two may have led
to an outcome that neither ever intended.
Again, it is worth recalling the Mitchell report:
The Sharon visit did not cause the "Al-Aqsa Intifada." But it was poorly timed
and the provocative effect should have been foreseen; indeed it was foreseen
by those who urged that the visit be prohibited. More significant were the events
that followed: the decision of the Israeli police on September 29 to use lethal
means against the Palestinian demonstrators; and the subsequent failure...of
either party to exercise restraint.
The report concluded: "We have no basis on which to conclude that there was
a deliberate plan by the PA to initiate a campaign of violence at the first
Barak's broad endorsement of Israel's current military campaign is cause for
perhaps the greatest dismay. Of course Israel must deal with breaches of its
security and look after its people's safety. Israel cannot be expected to sit
idly by as Palestinians target civilians and engage in suicide attacks. The
question, however, is not whether Israel should respond, but how. One might
have hoped for a wise response -one that combined strong security measures
with a genuine attempt to end the conflict-and that Ariel Sharon would have
imitated his predecessor in continuing the political talks. Short of that,
one might have hoped for a response that was driven principally, and understandably,
by security concerns. But what has occurred can be deemed neither wise nor
understandable. The wanton destruction on the West Bank of basic infrastructure,
of civilian ministries, of equipment and documents, including school records,
that have no security value-these are acts of revenge having little to do with
security and everything to do with humiliating and seeking to break the will
of the Palestinian people and undoing its capacity for self-governance.
The recent military action is directly related to the question of what can
now be done. Barak appears to have given up on the current Palestinian leadership,
placing his hopes in the next generation-a generation that has not lived through
the catastrophe, or nakba , of 1948. But what of the catastrophe of
2002? Is there any reason to believe that today's children will grow up any
less hardened and vengeful after the indiscriminate attacks of the past few
Barak also appears to have given up on what was his most important intuition-that
the time for incremental or partial moves was over, and that the parties had
to move toward a comprehensive and final settlement. While in office, he frequently
made the point that Israel could not afford to make tangible concessions until
it knew where the process was headed. Yet the unilateral withdrawal he now
has in mind would have Israel-in the absence of any agreement or reciprocal
concession-withdraw from Gaza and some 75 percent of the West Bank. It would
concentrate the struggle on the remaining 25 percent and on prevailing on outstanding
issues, such as Jerusalem and the refugees. Worst of all, it would embolden
those Palestinians who are ready to subscribe to the Hezbollah precedent and
would be quick to conclude that Israel, having twice withdrawn under fire,
would continue to do so.
Ehud Barak came into office vowing to leave no possibility unexplored in the
quest for peace and departed from office seeking a renewed mandate to complete
the talks begun at Taba. Since he left, he has in effect branded the Taba discussions
as a sham and hinted broadly that his goal throughout was to "unmask" Arafat
and prove him an unworthy partner for peace. As one reads his interview with
Benny Morris, it is hard to tell which is the true Barak. Certainly, his wholesale
indictment of the Palestinian leaders, his unqualified assertion that they
seek the end of Israel, his pejorative reflections on Arab culture, and his
support of Sharon's methods are at odds with the goals he once professed.
The interpretation of what happened before, during, and after Camp David -and
why-is far too important and has shown itself to have far too many implications
to allow it to become subject to political caricature or posturing by either
side. The story of Barak is of a man with a judicious insight-the need to aim
for a comprehensive settlement-that tragically was not realized. The Camp David
process was the victim of failings on the Palestinian side; but it was also,
and importantly, the victim of failings on Israel's (and the United States')
part as well. By refusing to recognize this, Barak continues to obscure the
debate and elude fundamental questions about where the quest for peace ought
to go now.
One of those questions is whether there is not, in fact, a deal that would
be acceptable to both sides, respectful of their core interests, and achievable
through far greater involvement (and pressure) by the international community.
Such a deal, we suggest, would include a sovereign, nonmilitarized Palestinian
state with borders based on the 1967 lines, with an equal exchange of land
to accommodate demographic realities, and with contiguous territory on the
West Bank. Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem would be the capital of Israel
and Arab neighborhoods would be the capital of Palestine. Palestinians would
rule over the Haram al-Sharif (Temple Mount), Israeli would rule over the Kotel
(Wailing Wall), with strict, internationally backed guarantees regarding excavation.
A strong international force could provide security and monitor implementation
of the agreement. A solution to the problem of the refugees would recognize
their desire to return while preserving Israel's demographic balance-for example
by allowing unrestricted return to that part of 1948 land that would then be
included in the land swap and fall under Palestinian sovereignty.
Barak closes his interview with the thought that Israel will remain a strong,
prosperous, and Jewish state in the next century. In order to achieve that
goal, there are far better and more useful things that Barak could do than
the self-justifying attempt to blame Arafat and his associates for all that
has gone awry.
-Mr. Barak and Mr. Morris will reply in the next issue of The New
York Review , and Mr. Malley and Mr. Agha will then reply in turn.
further details, see our article "Camp David: The Tragedy of Errors," The
New York Review , August 9, 2001.