MideastWeb Middle East Web Log
Depending on their viewpoints, commentators have variously lauded the election of Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) as President (or Chairman) of the Palestine National Authority (PNA) as a great victory for democracy and a great opportunity for peace, a well as a portent of more violence, and a foretaste of difficulties in the way of peace. The views depend on the authors. It may seem that everything that can be said has been said.
The Jerusalem Post maintained that Israel must tie advances in the peace process and support for Abbas to suppression of terror, a view echoed by Likud hard-liner Benjamin Nethanyahu. The Daily Star (Beirut) maintained that Israel must not tie advances in the peace process and support for Abbas to suppression of terror. In Haaretz, Danny Rubenstein commented that Abbas will be like Arafat in a suit, making the same demands of Israel as Arafat did, but doing so in an orderly manner. No doubt there will be many similar articles on all sides of the question. The settlers' Web site, Arutz 7, quoted Abu Mazen as saying in his victory speech that the "little Jihad [holy war] had ended, and now the big Jihad is beginning," a statement they view as portending yet more violence.* These and similar comments foreshadow a continuation of the status quo impasse in Israeli-Palestinian relations, rather than the hoped-for new era.
The commentaries almost all focus on the issues of democracy and Israeli-Palestinian relations and avoid or neglect some essential points. While there is no doubt that the orderly polling and democratic process deserve praise, the limitations of these elections must be noted. Abbas got over 60% of the vote. His closest oponent got about 21% of the vote, an overwhelming victory that occurs rarely if at all in real mature democracies. His major potential opponent, Marwan Barghouthi, withdrew from the election after Fatah functionaries visited him in his Israeli jail cell and apparently "made him an offer he cannot refuse." Later, Barghouthi also said that he never really intended to run, and meekly supported Abbas's candidacy.
Only a few months ago, Abbas was considered a failed and powerless politician. His support evaporated during his term as Prime Minister. Fatah derided him as a tool of the Americans and Israelis, and Israel and the US were not forthcoming with concessions that could bolster his popularity. Like ex-Israeli PM Ehud Barak, Abbas gambled on peace and lost. He was considered to be a Palestinian Barak or Peres, a "loser." Nonetheless, Abbas's political fortunes were resurrected. He was elected because of a decision by the Fatah to put their support behind a candidate who had the tacit backing of the United States and Israel, in order to give the Palestinians the best chance to advance their cause. In other words, Abbas was probably elected by machine politics rather than popular acclaim and free choice. The elections were not accompanied by parliamentary elections, which are only due to be held next summer.
For better or worse, Abbas is saddled with Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei (Abu Ala). The post of Prime Minister was originally created at the insistence of the US and EU, who wanted a counterweight to Arafat who could take the necessary measures for unifying security forces, cleaning up corruption and suppressing violence. Qurei, who replaced Abbas in the post of Prime Minister, proved adept at following Arafat's wishes and doing nothing effective toward reforming the Palestinian Authority. It remains to be seen what role he will play now, and whether reform attempts by Abbas will lead to a power struggle. It is by no means certain who will be "the real power" in Palesine: the elected President Abbas, the Prime Minister appointed by Arafat, or the PLO-Tunis machine that manipulates Palestinian politics behind the scenes.
Mustafa Barghouthi, a popular independent candidate, got about 20 to 24% of the vote. As opposed to Abbas, Barghouthi represents local grass roots Palestinian sentiment rather than the imported apparatus of PLO apparratchiks, and may be the best chance for real democratic reform. He is considered more "extreme" than Abbas in his stance toward Israel. However, Barghouthi's background in the Palestinian Communist Party (PPP) can be interpreted both ways, since PPP is the only Palestinian party that always recognized the existence of the State of Israel and the right of the Jewish people to self-determination, having accepted the UN partition plan of 1947. It remains to be seen if Barghouthi's support at the Presidential polls can be translated into a real parliamentary force for democracy.
Palestinians certainly hope that Abbas will not be "Arafat in a suit." The main issues for Palestinians in this election perhaps were putting an end to the corruption and chaos engendered by Arafat and his PLO-Tunis cronies. The big question is whether Abbas, a product of the same old-guard political machine, can carry out the reforms needed to turn Palestinian society into an orderly state-in-the-making that can provide for the basic security, welfare and democratic rights of its citizens.
From the Israeli point of view, it may well be that Abbas will be "Arafat in a suit", committed to the same unacceptable goals as his predecessor, including securing the "right" of several million refugees to "return" to Israel and turn Israeli into a Palestinian state. During the campaign, Abbas announced his support for "right of return" on several occasions. In a fit of anger after Israelis killed Palestinian civilians, he also mentioned his commitment to fight "the Zionist enemy," a phrase left over from the days when it was taboo to say "Israel," and implying that the existence of Zionism is irrevocably incompatible with Palestinian objectives. Nonetheless, a leader who can present Palestinians' demands, justified or otherwise, in an orderly and decent way, and who can give Palestinian society a democratic image, can be much more effective for the Palestinians and far more difficult for Israel to counter than the swashbuckling, unreliable and irresponsible Arafat.
The vision of imminent public peace negotiations advanced by many is unlikely to come true. Public Israeli-Palestinian negotiations would be faced with two seemingly impossible impasses. The first is that while Israel, as noted in the Jerusalem Post, insists that there can be no negotiations while violence continues, the Palestinians, as noted in the Daily Star, insist that there can be be no end to violence until the occupation ends. Even if he wanted to, Israeli PM Ariel Sharon doesn't have the political support to initiate peace negotiations and make meaningful concessions while violence continues.
The second problem is that while the Palestinians, including Abbas, are committed to return of the refugees in any final settlement, Israel could never possibly accept that condition, since it would mean the end of Israel as a Jewish national home. It is unlikely that in the foreseeable future, Abbas will be in a strong enough position to give up on right of return, and it is equally unlikely that he will be strong enough to act against the Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Fatah Al-Aqsa Brigades in order to suppress terror, or to secure a promise to stop violence while the occupation continues, even if he really wanted to do those things.
How can these obstacles be overcome? The rhetoric must be harnessed to reality, and conflicting national goals must be channeled into peace. Progress by "synchronous unilateralism" and other indirect subterfuges is more likely than public negotiations and confrontation. Synchronous unilateralism has solved problems in the past. Each side takes a seemingly unrelated action that just happens to coincide with the demands of the other side. For example, Egypt released the jailed Israeli Azam Azam, and a short while later, Israel released six Egyptian students held for spying. Everyone understood that the two deals were linked, but officially they could make believe that there was no deal and no concessions had been made. In the same way, Israel might release Palestinian prisoners for example, and Abbas would just happen to consolidate PNA security forces soon after.
Fruitful negotiations will be held, if at all, away from the limelight and without photo-ops and ballyhoo. Regarding final status, as neither side can give up on the refugee issue at present, they may put it aside. Through the UN, the US and EU will "unilaterally" provide alternative solutions for permanent settlement of refugees. The Israeli side will assume the issue is dead. The Palestinian leadership will tell their people that the decision about the refugees is deferred, but will add some phrase such as "The Fatah Revolutionary Movement will never surrender the legitimate right of the Palestinian Refugees to return to their homes." Operative decisions about borders, demilitarization, water and other issues may be reached in quiet clandestine negotiations - a new edition of the "Beilin-Abu Mazen agreement." Then the Israelis will "unilaterally" "disengage" from the West Bank as well as Gaza, and the Palestinians will "unilaterally" declare a state. Ariel Sharon will proclaim that he didn't negotiate with terrorists, and Abbas will proclaim that he didn't give up the fight against the Zionist Enemy. Each side will insist that they decry the unilateral facts on the ground imposed by the other side, and will keep their pride, their rhetoric and their slogans. Both sides will then quietly go on with the rest of their lives. Peace will have been achieved without trumpets and fanfare, and will be celebrated with quiet sighs of relief rather than with cries of joy.
* In Islamic tradition, the "little Jihad" usually refers to an actual war against enemies, while the "big Jihad" refers to an inner spiritual struggle for self-improvement.
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Replies: 19 comments
You are really convinced that when palestinians say ROR, it means an actual physical right for everybody to come home inside Israel.
It is not what I get from the media. For instance, Abbas has said quite clearly that he would fight for ROR according to UN resolution XYZ, the one that leaves opportunities to discuss settling the refugees elsewhere else.
My personal impression is that Palestinians want a recognition that the nabka did occur. If they get that, they are willing to discuss ways to implement a ROR that doesn't put in danger the Jewish State.
The Arab League proposal says the same. Otherwise, there was no reason for lebanon to have added a coddicile that settling the refugees elsewhere did not mean in Lebanon.
Posted by Paul @ 01/11/2005 06:50 PM CST
1- The Palestinian proposal at http://www.mideastweb.org/taba.htm Taba. specifically describes the implementation of the Right of Return in terms of the PHYSICAL Return of Refugees to ISRAEL, and references that as implementing the "legitimate rights of the Palestinians" under UN resolution 194 and 242. The Palestinian negotiating team is not me, and I am not them.
2. Sari Nusseibeh proposed giving up the physical ROR. As you know we had quite a discussion about this, and we both correspondence from the representative of the BADIL organization. In terms that cannot be misunderstood, the BADIL organization, which represents Palestinian refugees, affirmed their steadfastness in the right of the Palestinian refugees to return to ISRAEL, and proclaimed that anyone who gives up this right is a traitor.
3. The Al-Awda organization was formed to ensure that there would be no peace settlement that compromised the Right of Return. You can go to their Web site and see that they mean literal right of return, and that Prof. Abu Sitta has laid out a detailed plan whereby all the refugees can be settled in green line Israel.
4. Each year the Palestinian authority organizes a Nakba day commemoration, in which people appear with signs saying they want to return to Haifa, Ishdood, Yaffo, Acre, Beisan (Beth She'an), Majdal (Ashkelon), Birsaba (Beersheba), Hirieh (now the Tel-Aviv municipal arbage dump) and you name it. That is "home."
5. After the Geneva accord, which grants exactly the sort of symbolic solution that you advocate, Palestinian delegates who intended to go sign this accord were mobbed and nearly lynched for giving up the right of return.
6. An article at the Fatah Web site explains that the solution of the refugee problem is the key to destroying the Jewish state.
Abbas said that he is firm in his belief that every refugee must return to their home, though whether he said homeland (Balad), home (Beit) or "falastin" on different occasions is a matter of dispute.
As opposed to the massive evidence above, plus quite a few public opinion polls that show refugees want literally to go back to their homes, there is only one poll by Shikaki that shows that maybe not all refugees really want to return, and some informal statements by Palestinian officials that some understanding can be reached about the refugee question. I doubt that you could find any backing for your contention in any official Palestinian statement.
The Palestinians base their claim on UN Resolution 194, which says that the refugees who wish to live in peace with their neighbors "should" be allowed to
I wish it were not so, but I cannot find any evidence from any official document or declaration that says the Palestinians are willing to give up the physical right of refugees to return home.
The Arab League proposal says the same. "
I did not find any statement in any Arab League proposal that says they are giving up the physical right of refugees to return. On the coreturn. On the contrary, there is a reference to the good old UN resolutions there, and a specific rider attached signifying that refugees will not burden the host countries. The relevant document is here, and anyone can check that it doesn't give up right of return. The stipulation about "host countries" might be a hint that they might contemplate giving up Right of Return. That is not the same as saying that they did it.
Likewise I do not see where you got that personal impression from. You are entitled to your personal impressions, but the documents that the Palestinians propose say otherwise.
We cannot analyze what will happen based on "impressions" and wishfull thinking. Time and again, when it came to official negotiations, Palestinians insisted on physical return of refugees, or at the very least, on reserving the right to such return.
Posted by Ami Isseroff @ 01/11/2005 09:29 PM CST
Dear Paul & Ami,
Posted by Rod Davies @ 01/11/2005 11:04 PM CST
I regret to say that I see no route to a peaceful solution as a result of the election of Abbas to head the Palestinians into the future. His failure to confront Hamas and his continued insistence on the "right of return" as a basic Palestinian demand do not bode a peaceful resolution to the MidEast problems.
However, there are other obsticals to peace on the Israeli side. Sharon's policy of unilateral evacuation of Gaza will likely boomerang. Forceful removal of Jews from Gaza will cause a mini-revolution in Israel. In addition, once the IDF pulls out, Hamas is likely to increase their rocket bombardment of Israel. If the IDF returns to Gaza, all peace possibilities are lost.
Posted by ELCHANAN @ 01/13/2005 12:24 AM CST
I do have a positive proposal for handling the upcoming negotiations. Firstly,Sharon must abandon the unilateral approach to Gaza and offer to work together with Abbas on the transfer of Gaza from Israel to Palestinian control. This may require joint police operations to control or eliminate the terrorist groups currently residing in Gaza.
Secondly, The Jewish residents in Gaza should not be evicted. They should be given the option of moving into Israel proper, with government assistance, or to remain in their homes in Gaza under Palestinian rule. Setting a date for removal of Israeli military and police should help them make a decision.
Once Gaza is safely transferred, it should be a much easier matter to transfer hegmony on the West Bank using the same approach.
Posted by ELCHANAN @ 01/13/2005 12:42 AM CST
The truth of all this is that NEVER has been offered to Palestinians something which fullfill all their other aspirations and where the only problem were the ROR. Israel negociators always name the ROR as the main problem but the fact is that has never been the ONLY problem. Thus, the ROR acts as another incarnation of the old mantra "they want to throw us to the sea" and an invocation of the secret agenda of NPA. I agree with Paul and I remember Saeb Erekat saying "Do you really think that any of the refugees can seriously think about coming back inside Green Line? do you think we are kids?". Once Israel has accepted to negociate Jerusalem and the Mount (BTW Ami does not accept), if then Palestinians keep negating peace it will be legitimate to say that ROR is the problem. Just to be clear, for me ROR as "physical return" is as unacceptable as ilegal settlement outside Jerusalem outskirts and it shows a symetrical lack of respect for the other side that the one shown by radical settlers. Finally I want to say that Ami's analisys is becoming sligthly too much focused in Palestinian objections for peace instead of balancing them with Israel, presenting at times Israel as fighting for a fair peace. This is a change from his own comments months ago which were more clear about the forces inside Israel which conspire against fair offerings to Palestinians. Perhaps is time for an article about current will (or absence of) for a "242 complying peace" in Israel or how the world was cheated by Barak after Camp David. I cannot see why everybody is ignoring Clayton Swisher's book which I think should either be took in account (thus abandoning e.g. the idea of importance of ROR in Camp David and Taba) or be shown as a bunch of lies.
Posted by Aleph @ 01/17/2005 01:55 PM CST
The Palestinian side understood that Israel was ready to accept Palestinian sovereignty over the Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, including part of Jerusalem's Old City. The Israeli side understood that the Palestinians were ready to accept Israeli sovereignty over the Jewish Quarter of the Old City and part of the American Quarter.
The Palestinian side understood that the Israeli side accepted to discuss Palestinian property claims in West Jerusalem."
The disagreements about Maale Edumim etc. could be resolved. The major sticking point was refugees. While Erekat may have said what he said, Abbas has been clear - he wants ROR and 1967 borders. A recent poll says that over 90% of Palestinians back these positions. Abbas was noteworthy for having tougher positions during negotiations than others, which is surprising in view of the Beilin-Abu-Mazen agreement.
While it is true that the Palestinians never got offered 100% of what they asked for, it is also true that Israel never got offered a reasonable solution to the problem of ROR, because the Palestinians cannot offer it. If, as Erekat says, Palestinians aren't going to implement ROR, why did insist in their Taba offer that every refugee and descendant thereof must have right of return? If it is not important, why insist?
Posted by Ami Isseroff @ 01/18/2005 12:47 AM CST
Aleph - You pose the question why everyone is ignoring Clayton Swisher's book, and I was intrigued by this given the weight you afford it and him. So I hunted through internet to try to get some understanding of it.
Posted by Rod Davies @ 01/18/2005 11:52 AM CST
To Ami : I apologize. You are right and my "never" should have been "in Camp David". I have been saying for years that had Barak offered in Camp David what he offered in Taba, the conflict would have suffered a dramatic turn. Sharon attitude during Taba made Barak offerings hollow. However you were right and I was wrong. Regarding Erekat statement vs. palestinian people poll I would say that there is a big gap between "Palestinian street" and Palestinian negociators about ROR and the latter are not doing any effort to prepare the former for the evident concession they will be forced to do on this issue. I want to say that I completely reject "physical ROR" supporting "moral ROR" whatever this means.
Posted by Aleph @ 01/18/2005 05:38 PM CST
At the issue of refugees I think the Palestinians should compensation at best. The idea of returning to Israel is unfeesable. It is the one issue I would give up.
Posted by Butros Dahu @ 01/18/2005 06:42 PM CST
To Rod : Thanks for your effort. With all respect to you and having read the book I completely disagree on your conclusions. We do not know each other and I know my recent slip up does not speak in my favour. However I dare to say that I am not a newbee neither in contemporary history nor in Middle East conflict (or "conflicts") that can be cheated by a propaganda book. I have a library of many thousands of books about history, diplomacy and military history being most of them about XXth century. Clayton Swicher was in Camp David as "nobody" (low rank security member) and while he was there, he did not see directly anything relevant. Years after, when he finish his studies in university, he choose the subject for his thesis. He worked on it two years full time supervised by academic tutors. He interviewed all the main and seconday caracters (including Albright, Berger, Ben Ami, Abu Mazen, Walker, and a very long etc) criscrossing many times their statements and contacting them time and again until only a very few minor details remain without consensus ( and then publishing both versions). In my experience, two years for a thesis is average and I do not think that e. g. Margaret Macmillan took much more time to write her excellent "Paris 1919" about a similar subject (but thousand times more complicated in a book at least five times longer). For me, this book is the current best source for the actual facts in Camp David. The classic sources (Berger and Ben Ami) are in my opinion horribly biased. Berger lies (apart from patronizing and self promoting all the time as the hero) to cover up his screw-up and Ben Ami lies because of his iron solid patriotic feeling dictated so. Swisher knows that "extraordinary statements need exatraordinay proofs" and also knows that his credibility is very low so bothers himself on documenting and put quotes (nobody appearing in the book has complained for being misquoted) for each single episode building his case with the maniac meticulosity of a profesional historian who knows that is going to be scrutiniced by his peers. If something in the book is false or biased, it will be very easy to debunk because the book is free of blur, amiguous statements and only in the begining and in the end there are some opinions. The crux of the book are facts with the place, time and people involved and with the quotes about them of each of the witnesses. It is not a trivial thing because it gives a new and terrible light about what happened. How the incompetence and impatience of Clinton administration, how Barak's political weakness and how Arafat non-proactive and unprofesional attitude lead to this horrible situation where we are now. If there is book about the subject that deserves to be read is this one.
Posted by Aleph @ 01/18/2005 07:52 PM CST
Aleph I haven't read the book yet but I will seek it out now as I am much intrigued. In regards to ROR, if Israel concedes this then it will have taken itself outside the current international conventions on refugees. In this situation then the Palestinians would have a right to assert their ROR. Were the Palestinian refugees case strong then the PLO would have gone to the international court long ago. The barriers to them succeeding in court are: They pose a real danger to the state of Israel; They do not clearly recognise Israel's right to exist and would seek to overthrow it; the claimants include descendants of the 1948 refugees who are not by international law refugees.
Posted by Rod Davies @ 01/18/2005 10:21 PM CST
I do not want to write another behemoth. In the ROR issue my ideas are very common. The refugees cannot go back inside Green Line apart from a small simbolic group of oldies. Israel must recognize that they were not nomads, compensate them and allow them to go back to Cisjordania. In reciporcity Israel can ask for apologies and compensation for what was done to jews before 1967 (including money for Hebron houses, etc...) but I do not see the connection with the problem of jews expelled from other countries. In this case the apologies or compensations must be asked to those countries. I always have seen ridicuolus this idea of the Palestinians being the representatives of all the arabs (or recently of all the muslims). They have problems enough for representing themselves.
Posted by Aleph @ 01/19/2005 05:26 PM CST
Aleph: I believe that the linkage between Palestinian and Jewish refugees is established in principally within 242. 242 addresses all the beligerents, not just a compartmentalised issue between Palestinians and Israelis. The expulsion of Jews from the Arab states is related to the conflict and part of the policies of those states in relation to the conflict. I note that the Palestinians identify various groups of refugees depending upon the time of their displacement.
Posted by Rod Davies @ 01/20/2005 02:38 PM CST
iam abed from palestine
Posted by abed al majeed @ 01/23/2005 12:30 PM CST
Ahlan - abed! Despite the sometimes terse and irritable dialogue that occassionally occurs here, I think everyone here prays for peace.
Posted by Rod Davies @ 01/24/2005 11:25 PM CST
Rod: You're dead wrong about me. I can assure you this pony has many, many tricks up its sleeves....Further, your conspiratorial conjecture on who I am/what I did is asinine if not amusing (very, actually). For the sake of trying to ground you in some realism until you actually read my book (at which point I'll love to debate it with you), I've pasted below a review by Israeli journalist Akiva Eldar.
All the rest of you, keep fighting the good fight in the e-war of words and ideas!
Shalom, Salaam, Peace!
Akiva Eldar, Ha'aretz (Oct 1, 2004)
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).
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.
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 Clayton E. Swisher @ 01/29/2005 03:19 AM CST
Mr. Swisher: Thank you for your classic response, it is one I witness frequently in my daily work deployed by Whitehall Mandarins when someone proffers an interpretation which is far too near the truth for comfort. I have obviously touched a raw nerve.
There are a number of stages to this response:
This strategy works well where the audience don't recognise it for what it is. It is often associated in UK with Oxbridge educated civil servants, and so I am pleased to learn that some part of Anglo-Saxon culture remains alive and well in the Americas.
Posted by Rod Davies @ 01/31/2005 09:31 PM CST
RIGHT OF RETURN FOR REPRESENTATIVES OF PALESTINIANS WHO WANT TO LIVE IN PEACE WITH THEIR NEIGHBOURS THAT IS JUDAISM HUMAN RIGHTS DEMOCRACY AND PIKUACH NEFESH ZIONISM
Posted by YITZCHAK @ 02/22/2005 12:13 PM CST
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