No Israeli defence of its war on the Palestinians would be complete without a reference to Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat's supposed rejection of "peace" at the July 2000 Camp David summit hosted by US President Bill Clinton. The story is so ingrained in the mythology of the conflict that the mainstream media repeat it at the drop of a hat — that an "irrational" Arafat walked away from a "generous" Israeli offer that would have given the PA control of "95% of the Occupied Territories". Naseer Aruri, chancellor professor emeritus of political science at the University of Massachusetts and author of The Obstruction of Peace: The US, Israel and the Palestinians (1995), explained the reality to ANTHONY ARNOVE.
Did Yasser Arafat reject peace at Camp David?
Arafat was offered neither a credible peace nor a viable Palestinian state at Camp David. Israel had reneged on its obligation to make an agreed-upon withdrawal, and proceeded to Camp David with a speech by Prime Minister [Ehud] Barak in which three "No's" were delivered: no to any return to the [pre-]1967 borders of Israel, no to any change in the status of Jerusalem, and no to the return of refugees.
The myth of the "generous offer" consisted of four enclaves, bisected by illegally built colonial settlements and bypass roads for Jews only, that would have prevented the Palestinians from ever establishing a viable, independent and contiguous state in any area between the River Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea.
Although the four cantons (northern West Bank, central West Bank, southern West Bank and Gaza) may have been called a "state", the requirements of nation-states were sorely missing. It would have been a state without sovereignty, without geographic continuity and lacking control over its borders, airspace and economic and water resources. In fact, it would have consisted of 64 clusters as islands in the midst of Israel — a "state" existing within Israel, but not alongside Israel.
Moreover, the often-touted story that Barak offered to relinquish 95-96% of the West Bank-Gaza territory was never examined by the army of US journalists who never spare a chance to repeat it.
The percentage game didn't take into account the fact that occupied and annexed East Jerusalem was expanded from six square kilometres to 70 square kilometres — to include the land of 28 Palestinian villages.
Israel's total percentage figures have conveniently excluded Jerusalem, the Dead Sea, the Jordan Valley and the settlements.
Needless to say, the West Bank and Gaza constitute 22% of pre-Israel Palestine, in which Jewish ownership comprised 7%. So the generous offer was not 95% of the 22%, but more like 70% of the 22% — which would be about 15% of historic Palestine at best.
Moreover, Arafat was expected to relinquish the right of the refugees to return, which is guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as well as by UN General Assembly Resolution 194. In addition, Israel would have retained sovereignty on the land on which Muslim and Christian holy places are built, while the Palestinian Authority would have had control over the buildings.
This was certainly a recipe for perpetual conflict rather than peace.
Do you think the Oslo "peace" process was doomed to fail?
The Oslo process failed because it was an agreement to reach an agreement with built-in gridlock. It was intended to create a facade of diplomacy that would enable Israel to conquer additional Palestinian territory for colonial settlements and bypass roads, under presumed peace conditions.
The Israeli strategy behind Oslo was based on pursuing a settlement that excluded any sovereign existence for Palestinians in the occupied West Bank. It was designed to be a cost-effective strategy, in which the economic and moral cost of policing the occupation would be transferred to Arafat and his Palestinian Authority, while Israel would be released to pursue its world trade ambitions in an atmosphere of normalisation with the Arab Middle East.
Knowing that the end game would never include Palestinian independence and the dismantling of the occupation, Israeli governments — irrespective of whether they were led by Likud or Labour — exploited the gridlock in order to procrastinate and prolong the interim period, but never arrive at the final-status negotiations.
The Oslo process became, in effect, a mere process with little substance — a process of creating a self-governing modality for the Palestinians, instead of reaching accords on sovereignty, borders, water, Jerusalem and refugees.
That was the reason for Bill Clinton's personal involvement in what became known as the Wye River agreement and the Hebron agreement during the late 1990s, among other attempts to iron out problems.
During these endless meetings, the Palestinian Authority was pressed to make one concession after another, including becoming virtually a CIA operative whose mission was to eliminate any popular resistance to the occupation (defined as terrorism).
When Ehud Barak finally decided to renege on Israel's obligations to make scheduled withdrawals and opted for a final settlement at Camp David in July 2000, the pillars of a credible settlement were absent. Arafat, however, was coaxed into attending a prematurely arranged conference that was bound to fail.
Having realised that they had more than exhausted the search for a negotiated settlement, the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories rebelled, and the rest is well-known.
What strategy is Ariel Sharon following now?
Sharon's strategy right now is a continuation of his strategy from more than a quarter of a century ago — the redefinition of Israel's borders to include all of pre-1948 Palestine, from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River. He has been an outspoken advocate of the notion that the Palestinians should have their sovereign state — in Jordan.
Under the pretext of dismantling the "terrorism infrastructure", he launched an all-out onslaught designed to obliterate not only the Palestinian Authority, but also the economic and political infrastructure of the Palestinians, including cultural, medical and humanitarian institutions.
As prime minister, he has been vigorously trying to browbeat Palestinians into an unconditional surrender — forcing them to end their uprising against the occupation once and for all and accept a fragmented entity under Israel's overall control.
He has tightened the economic siege and blocked communication between towns, villages and cities — making life unbearable for the ordinary Palestinian, with the purpose of persuading as many as possible to leave.
This is calculated to implement the policy known in Israel as "transfer" — meaning expulsion of Palestinians, or ethnic cleansing.
A negotiated settlement, even on the basis of Oslo, hasn't been and isn't now on Sharon's agenda. That doesn't mean that it's on the agenda of the Labour Party, whose luminaries such as Shimon Peres and Ehud Barak have adhered to the same strategies with different tactics.
Thus, any attempts by Colin Powell to broker a settlement will be futile unless the occupation is dismantled in accordance with international law, and negotiations begin over implementing international law relating to the principal issues, such as the status of Jerusalem, rights of refugees, water and borders.
[From Socialist Worker, weekly paper of the US International Socialist Organization. Visit <http://www.socialistworker.org>.]
From Green Left Weekly, April 24, 2002.
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