Monday Aug. 2, 2010 9:37 AM (EST+7)
RAMALLAH, August 1 (JMCC) - In July 2000, Palestinians and Israelis came together in final status negotiations under the Maryland pines. At Camp David, a state of war was to be transformed into Palestinian and Israeli coexistence.
“We would not leave the room without reaching an agreement,” recalls Omar Shahban, analyst and director of the Palestinian organization Palthink. “We were naïve.”
Ten years later, Palestinians remember the bitter lessons of those talks.
The media banned, the events of Camp David have been left to narrative legend. That narrative – promoted immediately after the conference – is that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat turned down an impressive peace proposal made by then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak.
Dig below the spin and a different reality emerges. “Camp David was not as generous an offer as it was made to seem,” says a source close to the Palestinian negotiating team. He calls Israel’s Camp David proposal a “repackaging of the occupation.”
According to Palestinian negotiator Nabil Shaath, Camp David was doomed from its inception. The talks “failed because the expectations of the parties were too far apart from the very beginning,” he says.
The Israeli and American understanding, says Shaath, was that Palestinians would always accept significantly less than they first demanded. This was the lesson learned from past interim negotiations.
But in the final status talks, Palestinians recognized that their approach had to be different.
“Permanent means that what you don’t gain, you lose forever,” says Shaath. “We expected to talk about security and about refugees, but never to be expected to give up an iota of the West Bank,” says Shaath.
Israel, on the other hand, went to Camp David to discuss how much of the occupied West Bank should be turned over to Palestinians. US interlocutor Dennis Ross spoke with Palestinians in private and framed a map offering Palestinians some 60 percent of the West Bank, says Shaath.
Barak had not forgotten the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin after signing the Oslo accords with Palestinians. He thought a compromise with Arafat would have to be played out in private.
He sought to offer a one-shot package, a proposal that would require some compromise, but would result in no further hassle, no more negotiations. Settlement construction in the West Bank could continue until a final agreement was reached.
In a colossal misunderstanding, Ross told US President Bill Clinton, also at the talks, that Arafat had accepted.
But that would have been political suicide. The offer put on the table allowed for no autonomous security force, no control of movement between Gaza and the West Bank and only symbolic control over East Jerusalem, say sources close to the negotiators.
It was an offer that former Israeli foreign minister Shlomo Ben Ami later famously said he himself would have rejected
LACK OF TRUST
Distrust colored the negotiations. Arafat suspected Barak had false intentions. Fresh from the failed Wye River Accords, “we went to Camp David feeling cheated anyway,” says Shaath.
When the talks failed, Palestinians were made to bear the brunt of the blame, and Arafat himself was demonized as the cause. Palestinians remember this well.
“Barak said after Camp David that ‘I went to Camp David to get Arafat out,” says Shaath.
It would only be a matter of months before the Israeli military surrounded Arafat in his Ramallah offices, the leader’s international support all but collapsed.