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Dennis Ross on Arafat's culpability

11/02/2004

With Yasir Arafat's health and longevity in question, it seems appropriate to re-evaluate his role as head of the Palestine Authority. Dennis Ross's book, "The Missing Peace: The Inside Story of the Fight for Middle East Peace", Farrar, Straus and Giroux, reinforces my conviction that Arafat and the Palestinian people missed a tremendous opportunity when former Israeli PM Ehud Barak was their negotiating partner.

Since Barak's downfall, the two ideological sides have teamed up to create a dialogue of the deaf, with the right and most of the center convinced that Barak offered the Palestinians "everything," or more than Israel could afford, and the left (including much of the liberal left) contending that Barak never presented Arafat a viable Palestinian state that he could sell to his people as an adequate basis for peace. Ross takes us closer to the truth with his comprehensive account.

Ambassador Ross, Pres. Clinton's point person for Middle East policy, characterizes Yasir Arafat as ultimately incapable of committing his people to a peaceful two-state solution. The following is taken from his article distributed by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA), an American-Jewish news service:

"Arafat... could accept limited understandings [that is, interim agreements] because they didn't require him to make irrevocable commitments -- and Yasir Arafat has never made an irrevocable commitment to anyone, and never will.

"He will never close the door on any option or foreclose the possibility of preserving a one-state solution --that is to say, not independent and adjacent Israeli and Palestinian states, but a single state over all of historic Palestine.

".... [This, despite the fact] that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak was likely to lose the upcoming Israeli election if there were no agreement, and everything that was on the table for the Palestinians -- 100 percent of the Gaza Strip and roughly 97 percent of the West Bank, the Arab neighborhoods of eastern Jerusalem, independent borders with Egypt and Jordan, an international security presence, a 'right of return' for refugees to their state but not to Israel, and $30 billion in compensation and assistance for refugees choosing not to return to the State of Palestine -- would all be lost....

Retroactively criticizing US policy during the Oslo years, Ambassador Ross continues:


"... it should have been made clear to Arafat that we would not deal with him if he failed to delegitimize terrorism. In fact, he never did so.

"He formally renounced terrorism as a condition for gaining Israeli recognition, but that renunciation meant little when he continued -- and still continues -- to glorify as martyrs those who carried out acts of violence against Israelis.

"Second, we.... should have insisted that Arafat had to prepare his public for compromise by declaring that neither the Palestinians nor Israelis would get 100 percent of what they wanted on Jerusalem, borders and refugees."


Ross is not simply repeating the pro-Barak "generous offer" line. He confirms that Barak was flawed in his personality, in his secretiveness, and in his haughtiness toward the Palestinians. Barak (unlike Rabin) did not successfully transition from military to political leader -- not understanding how to support his political allies and not even knowing how to consult with his advisers. For example, he did not bring his main political partner, Meretz ex-leader Yossi Sarid with him to Camp David, and crudely supported the ultra-Orthodox Shas against Meretz in a dispute having to do with the accountability of public funds in Shas-run schools. Barak totally freelanced and ad-libbed his way through Camp David. In short, he alienated everyone, including his friends in Israel.

However, Barak was talking about solutions that were of a totally different order than Sharon and anyone else on the right. He was attempting in his awkward way to reach a reasonable accommodation with the Palestinians. Not even Rabin had broached the idea of shared or divided sovereignty in Jerusalem.

Arafat's fatal failure was in not stopping the Intifada in its tracks, a few weeks after it began, when he still might have had Barak to negotiate with. Barak was moving in his direction, but Arafat apparently believed that a little terrorism would move him further. Instead, it got him Sharon, and it has gotten the Palestinians less than dust.

Even Avi Shlaim, not a fan of the Israeli right, acknowledges this in his review in "The Nation" magazine (Aug 30) although he buries this important point of agreement in the last paragraph of an article that largely criticizes Ross. Likewise, Robert Malley, Ross's former Clinton administration colleague who has been outspoken in his criticism of Barak, also admits, in his critique published in the October 7 issue of "The New York Review of Books," that


"In violation of commitments made at Oslo, he [Arafat] had never relinquished the possibility of using violence; once the intifada broke out, he chose to ride it rather than try to end it."

The anti-Israel left is using Barak's flaws to totally ignore Arafat's more basic shortcomings, and to unfairly skewer Israel. Israel is reacting to a mindless campaign of terror that has boomeranged against the Palestinians. In many ways, it is taking Israel down as well -- in economic costs, international isolation, and even in an ongoing terrorist threat. Israel is mostly divided between the extreme right today, and Sharon now positioned on the center-right, with the prospect of a decent peace for the Palestinians further off than ever.

Although I fundamentally agree, I'm uncomfortable with Ambassador Ross's definitive verdict on Arafat. If the peace process had not been disrupted by Rabin's assassination and episodes of Palestinian terrorism which delivered Israel to leaders who did not believe in Oslo, the benefits of peace (or at least its irreversibility) would have become undeniable even to Arafat. But the only hope for peace in our time, is that Arafat and his immediate successors, even if unreliable, are dealt with as national leaders because they are.

The Palestinian people must conclude for themselves that Arafat and his cronies are leading them nowhere. Sharon is doing nobody but the angel of death a service by refusing to include the Palestinian leadership in some semblance of a negotiating process. Tragically, under Sharon, the likelihood is slim to none of both sides embracing a comprehensive two-state solution resembling Geneva within the next few years. "Regime change" is overdue on both sides of the Middle East divide.

Ralph Seliger

Ralph Seliger is editor of "Israel Horizons," the publication of Meretz USA

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Original text copyright by the author and MidEastWeb for Coexistence, RA. Posted at MidEastWeb Middle East Web Log at http://www.mideastweb.org/log/archives/00000308.htm where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Distributed by MEW Newslist. Subscribe by e-mail to mew-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by email with this notice and link to and cite this article. Other uses by permission.

by RSeliger @ 11:47 AM CST [Link]

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Replies: 2 comments

Hi,

Such discussion reminds me of a word of Marechal Foch, asked who had won the battle of the Marne in 1914. He did answer something like: I don't know who won it but I know who would have lost it.

I would bet that each party has its own share in the responsibility of the failure of Camp David.

Akiva Eldar in the article below illustrates for instance that America, Ross in particular, didn't do its homework before that meeting.

Best
Paul

Sat., October 02, 2004 Haaretz
They didn't do their homework
By Akiva Eldar


For the first time, the failure of the Camp David summit is laid at the Americans' doorstep.
The question of whether there was a Palestinian partner for peace or the Oslo process was no more than a conspiracy refuses to leave the national and international agenda. Innumerable books, articles and interviews have hashed and rehashed the contributions of Ehud Barak, the Israeli prime minister at the time of the Camp David summit in the summer of 2000, and of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to the free-fall crash of the peace process. The documentation is largely the handiwork of political personalities whose ego was mortally wounded by the failure and by senior officials whose careers were mired because of it.

In that critical period, Clayton Swisher, an M.A. student and a security guard for VIPs, accompanied then U.S. secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, and the American peace team on its junkets to the Middle East. He walked alongside them in Jerusalem and Ramallah as well as at Camp David, and was there to greet the Israelis and the Palestinians whenever they came to Washington to solicit diplomatic support. Swisher remembered them on September 11, 2001, when Al-Qaida terrorists massacred Americans, while the Israelis and Palestinians were busy killing one another.

"I wondered how, if maybe things had gone differently - either at that summit known as Camp David I went to or in later shuttle trips abroad - the world might have been safer and our fight against Bin Ladenism more winnable," he says in a conversation from Washington.

The young student and security guard (today 27) decided to focus his master's thesis, on the collapse of the Middle East peace process, not only on the role of the Palestinians and the Israelis. The work, which he wrote within the framework of his studies at the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University, Washington, is the first to examine thoroughly the role of the American mediator and to expose its role in the failure. Swisher took advantage of his acquaintance with former senior officials in the previous administration. From an academic thesis his study was transformed into a fascinating book, an invasive, incisive and merciless probe of the guts of the Clinton administration ("The Truth About Camp David: The Untold Story about the Collapse of the Middle East Peace Process," Nation Books, New York, 2004).

Sloppy preparation

One after another, senior officials in the White House and the State Department are seen to have conducted amateurish mediation, tinged with domestic American politics and personal power struggles. One of the most revealing testimonies is that of Maria Echaveste, the deputy chief of staff of the White House. She relates that some of the senior members of the American team were against holding the July 2000 summit, fearing that the sides were not yet ready to make tough decisions: "[Albright] went back and forth. On the one hand I think she was the strong voice saying we should meet, but then as things started blowing up, she said on several occasions to me that `We shouldn't have done this! We should have waited! The Palestinians weren't ready!'"

Dennis Ross, who exercised more influence than anyone else on American policy vis-a-vis the peace process in the 1990s, reveals what lay behind his recommendation to the president to convene the Camp David summit, despite the opposition of Arafat and the reservations of senior administration officials. "The reason I recommended going was because the president made it clear that this was the last period at which he would do a summit ...After that, in August...You had the Republican convention first, then you had the Democratic one." Ross adds: "Given the choice of having no summit versus having a summit - in my mind - it was worth the risk."

Swisher reveals that at the last minute, before the invitations went out to Barak and Arafat, Aaron Miller, Ross' deputy, went to Madeleine Albright in attempt to get her support for an approach espousing a "series of summits" rather than ******** everything on a one-time event. When he raised the idea with the secretary of state, Miller recalls, "she almost threw me out of the office!"

For her part, Echaveste accuses the State Department team of sloppy management during the summit, in a way that harmed the president's honor and prestige. "There were times they were not prepared. By `they' I mean the State Department and Dennis and Madeleine. Initially they [were] making the plan as we went along. We would get together in the morning. It always started because the protocol office wanted to know, `Okay, are we having lunch together today? Are we going to sit separately?' ... [The protocol offices] couldn't get any traction from Dennis and Madeleine, because they didn't have a plan ... There were times, especially at the beginning, when it was like [Clinton] was sitting there as one of the staff people figuring out how this should run. That's not what the president should be doing!"

Miller: "The Israelis and Palestinians came very prepared to Camp David - the problem was, we didn't."

Toni Verstandig, a deputy assistant secretary for Near Eastern Affairs and a member of Ross' peace team, said: "I don't think we were prepared going into the meetings as well as we should have been. I don't think we did the kind of paper preparation, `ganging-up,' `this happens and then you do this; this is the fallback.' It was very loosy-goosy, because that's Dennis and that's the way Dennis liked to run things ... Dennis was the only one who had [notes for review], and they were his personal, chicken-scratch notes. Had we done more complete brainstorming and research, we would have been able to push the process along."

In the absence of a formal record, Swisher notes, the Americans who reported on the course of the talks relied mainly on their memory, which was a contributing factor to the Rashomon of Camp David.

Hurling accusations

Echaveste reported on high tension between Sandy Berger, the national security adviser, and Albright over which of them would set the pace of the discussion and the subjects that were raised. Albright admitted to the author that during the first three days of the summit there were "disagreements" within the American team concerning the papers that were passed from hand to hand. One of the members of the Israeli delegation related that the arguments between the Americans were "so loud [they] carried through to the other cabins."

According to Martin Indyk, the U.S. ambassador to Israel at the time, some of the American participants lacked any experience in the Israeli Palestinian conflict and were in the talks purely for political reasons, thus affecting the performance of the American team. Ross suggested that in his view, the presence of President Clinton himself was not beneficial, to put it mildly: "The fact is, the president, as good and as knowledgeable as he was, is not a negotiator."

Verstandig is critical of the very decision to enter the conference without any idea of how to get out of it: "We went in to the highest stakes of negotiations not only not knowing an endgame; we didn't know what Israel's positions were - their final bottom-line positions on Jerusalem. We saw them unfolding in front of us."

Albright blames Barak for refusing to tell the Americans in advance how far he was willing to go with concessions, or even to discuss the subject, as this deprived the Americans of the possibility of mustering the support of Arab leaders before the summit. Thus, "when we started making phone calls about it, they [the Arab leaders] weren't willing to help us because they didn't know the full context of what it was about," she said.

In a critical retrospective look, she says that it was Barak who asked Clinton to convene the summit, but when the Israeli leader arrived he rejected the American paper, and so "it immediately got off track by this foot-dragging on Barak's part, and irritation on Arafat's part for being there in the first place." Ross, Miller and Indyk claimed Barak got cold feet at the last minute.

Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, who was then a member of the security cabinet, and Uri Saguy, who headed the negotiating team with the Syrians, confirmed that an agreement was within reach, but that Barak feared the Israeli public would object to a withdrawal to the lines of June 4, 1967. Lipkin-Shahak proposes to Swisher a subject for a new study: why the United States didn't draw the lesson from its bitter experience with Barak in the Syrian channel, and instead made the same mistakes again seven months later at Camp David.

Albright offers the author an explanation for the forgiving approach toward Barak: "One of the things you have to understand is we were so pleased to see Barak, who was eager to do things [presumably, after the Benjamin Netanyahu years]. I think that one of the mistakes we made was to think that Barak - while he clearly was a military genius - had enough of a political strategic view on some of this."

The Americans' conduct in 1999-2000 has more than academic-historical significance. Aaron Miller relates that Secretary of State Colin Powell, "one of the most fair-minded members of the new administration," drew his initial positions on the peace process from a four-hour meeting with Dennis Ross. Miller, who accompanied his boss, claims that Powell got what is described as a "tainted version" of the recent past, including the Camp David summit.

"Like any brief," said Miller, "you don't want to give centrality to how you fucked up. Dennis could have never brought himself to do it, and neither could I."

Posted by Paul @ 11/02/2004 05:36 PM CST

Now that Arafat is ailing and the Palestinians face the upheaval that is bound to come, a window of opportunity exists that may expose the forces that supported Arafat through the years that he kept the conflict going. Whatever may be written about the failures of every peace overture since 1948, it should be abundantly clear that the Palestinians were kept in refugee bondage and that no settlement of any kind with Israel was ever to be allowed. Rather than viewing this history as a failure of the peacemakers, it should be viewed as the success of the power elites who benefitted from the ongoing conflict. And the more important lesson that must be learned is how to overcome those powers that want the conflict to continue now that their terrorist Palestinian leader is apparently about to lose his grip on the forces within the Palestinian juggling match that has been ongoing for all these years. To succeed in this endeavor, seek out the sources of funding for each and every individual and group vying for control of the conflict. Be assured that Hamas and Hezbollah will be among the biggest beneficiaries - simply because they are the most violent in their war against Israel/peace

Posted by Nachum Meyers @ 11/08/2004 08:40 PM CST


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