January 4, 2001
Special Dispatch No. 170

Arafat's Letter of Reservations to President Clinton

The Palestinian daily Al-Ayyam published PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat's letter to President Clinton in which he explains his reservations about the American proposals and demands clarifications before answering them.[1]

The letter was published as Arafat flies to Washington to meet with Clinton. The letter, which presumably was delivered to President Clinton in English, was published in Al-Ayyam in Arabic. Following is the translation:

"We seek, through this letter, to explain why the latest American proposals, that were presented without any clarifications, do not meet the required conditions for a lasting peace."

"In their present form, the American proposals may lead to the following: 1) partitioning the Palestinian state into three different cantons connected by roads either for Jews only or for Arab only. These roads will also divide the cantons which may jeopardize the viability of this state; 2) partitioning Palestinian Jerusalem into several islands detached from one another as well as from the Palestinian state; 3) forcing the Palestinians to concede the refugee's Right of Return."

"Additionally, these proposals do not include practical security arrangements between Palestine and Israel nor do they deal with some other issues of great importance to the Palestinian people. The American proposals seem to respond to Israeli demands while ignoring the basic Palestinian requirement: a viable Palestinian state that can survive."

"The American proposal was phrased in general terms that in some cases lack clarity and specificity. We believe that the Final Settlement Accord should not be merely a document of general political principles. Rather, it should be a comprehensive agreement that clarifies details, mechanisms, and timetables for ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In order for such an agreement to be efficient, it must be supported by clear and effective international guarantees. We believe that a general and vague agreement at this advanced stage of the peace process will only have negative consequences. This belief emanates from our experience regarding Israel's history of not keeping signed agreements. The Final Settlement Accord should be final to the full extent of the word, rather than an agreement to continue negotiations..."

Palestinian State's Land

"In regard to land, the US proposed that Israel annex 2-6% of the West Bank and that this annexation will be compensated by Israel only by the equivalent of 1-3%. In addition, both sides will examine the possibility of leasing land from one another. The US also proposed that an American map would be drawn that would mark the lands to be annexed by Israel which will include 80% of the settlers in settlement-blocs. At the same time [the American proposal] encourages geographical contiguity, and minimizes both the scope of lands to be annexed and the number of Palestinians to be damaged by this annexation."

"Some problems arise from these proposals. Since maps were not appended to the proposal, and since the size of the overall area from which the percentage will be drawn is unclear, it is difficult to reconcile the proposed percentage [of annexation] with the promise for Palestinian geographical contiguity. Our fear increases in view of Israel's insistence that the overall area from which the percentage is drawn does not include Jerusalem as defined by Israel, lands of [Jewish] religious sites, and the Dead Sea. The American side has not contradicted this Israeli position."

"Regarding the American proposal of swapping leased lands, it is unclear what Palestinian interest such a swap is meant to serve, since the Palestinian side does not need any Israeli lands, with the exception of the safe passage between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, which the American side proposed to consider as part of the land swap [rather than the leased-lands]."

"The American proposal, when examined in light of the map presented by the Israeli side in the last round of negotiations in Washington, gives Israel control over extensive parts of the land, which will rob the Palestinian state of any durability and of any connection to its international borders."

"Since a map clarifying all the vague issues is not appended to the American proposal, this proposal has no guarantees that Israel will not return to its David proposal: the annexation of 10% and submitting an additional 10% to Israeli control in the framework of vague security arrangements. It is noteworthy that all the settlements in the West Bank occupy only 2% of its land."

"The Palestinian side also rejects the American use of the 'settlement-blocs' as a principle in the negotiations. This subordinates the Palestinian interest in geographical contiguity and control over natural resources to Israel's interest in geographical contiguity for the settlements, which the international community regards as illegitimate. Additionally, this principle - the 'settlement-blocs' - contradicts the criteria of the American proposal itself: minimizing both the annexed lands and the number of Palestinians damaged by this annexation."

"In conclusion, it is inconceivable that we accept a proposal punishing the Palestinians and rewarding the illegitimate Israeli settlement policies. A proposal including the annexation of 4-6% of the land (let alone 10%) will inevitably damage basic Palestinian interests. In the framework of such a formula, the number of displaced Palestinians will increase due to annexation of Arab villages to Israel."

"In addition, according to the appended map and in keeping with the American proposal, sizeable uninhabited lands in vital areas such as Jerusalem and Bethlehem will be annexed by Israel and this will ruin the geographical contiguity of the Palestinian state. Not only will it limit the Palestinians' freedom of movement, it will also have severe implications on the development of the Palestinian state. Such a vast annexation will inevitably damage Palestinian water rights."

"As for the land exchange, the American proposal does not specify the Israeli lands that will serve as compensation for the annexed lands. The Palestinian side insists that any compensation for land annexed [to Israel] will be equal to this land in size and value. We see no other logic. Nevertheless, the American proposal specifically opposes equal size of the swapped lands and disregards the issue of their value or location. All the American and Israeli proposals for lands exchange in the past referred only to lands adjacent to the Gaza strip in exchange for valuable lands in the West Bank. In addition to their arid nature, the lands offered to the Palestinians as compensation, currently serve for toxic waste disposal. Undoubtedly, we cannot agree to exchange lands valuable for agriculture and development, with garbage sites for toxic waste."

Jerusalem

"On the issue of Jerusalem, President Clinton proposed the general principle of 'Arab areas to Palestine and Jewish areas to Israel.' However, he called on both sides to cooperate in [drawing] maps that maximize geographical contiguity for both sides. Two possible formulae were presented-- each one talks about Palestinian sovereignty over Al-Haram Al-Sharif and Israeli sovereignty over the 'Western Wall,' while limiting both sides in conducting excavations underneath the Haram or underneath the Wall."

"Several problems emerge from both American formulae regarding the Haram. First, it seems that the American proposal recognizes, in essence, the Israeli sovereignty underneath the Haram, since it implies that Israel has the right to excavate behind the Wall (which is the same area underneath the Haram) but it voluntarily concede this right. Second, the term 'Western Wall' is interpreted as an area greater then the Western Wall itself, including the tunnel opened by former Israeli PM, Netanyahu, in 1996 - [the opening of] which led to wide confrontations."

"In addition, the territorial element in the American proposal on Jerusalem raises some problems and necessitates further clarifications-- As a result of the Israeli settlement policy in occupied East Jerusalem - a policy that was internationally condemned - the American proposal for 'Arab areas for Palestine and Jewish areas for Israel' cannot be reconciled with the principle of 'maximal geographical contiguity for both sides,' that was a part of the same proposal."

"This formula will eventually lead to Palestinian islands in the city that are detached from one another, while Israel will maintain geographical contiguity. Therefore, the proposal for 'maximal geographical contiguity for both sides,' means, in reality, 'maximal geographical contiguity for Israel.'"

"Israel's constant demand for sovereignty over some 'religious sites' in Jerusalem that are not geographically specified, and the Israelis' continued refusal to present maps clarifying their demands on Jerusalem, only enhance Palestinian fears. Any solution that will be acceptable from the Palestinian perspective must include geographical contiguity between the Palestinian areas in Jerusalem on the one hand, and the rest of the Palestinian lands, on the other hand."

"One of the cornerstones of the Palestinian position regarding Jerusalem relates to its status as an 'open city,' that safeguards everybody's freedom of movement in Jerusalem. This status is fundamental not only in order to secure the freedom of movement and worship in all the holy places and for whoever believes in the sanctity of this city, but also for safeguarding freedom of movement in the Palestinian state itself. Unfortunately, the American proposal disregards this fundamental principle."

The Palestinian Refugees

"Regarding the Palestinian refugees expelled from their homes as a result of the establishment of the state of Israel, the US proposed that both sides acknowledge the refugees' right to return to 'historical Palestine' or 'their homeland,' However, the US added that the agreement must clarify that there is no specific right for the refugees to return to areas that are currently within Israel."

"In compensation, five places were offered for settling refugees: 1) the state of Palestine; 2) areas in Israel that will be transferred to Palestine in the framework of 'lands-exchange;' 3) Resettlement in countries that are currently hosting them; 4) Resettlement of refugees in other countries; 5) entering Israel. All refugees will have the right to 'return' to the state of Palestine, but resettlement in host and other countries, as well as entering Israel, will be based on the policies of the relevant state."

"The American proposal wholly endorses the Israeli position that the Right of Return must be entirely dependent on Israel's discretion. It is important to note at this point that Resolution 194, which serves as the basis for a just settlement for the Refugee Problem, determines the return of the Palestinian refugees 'to their homes' and not 'to their homeland' or 'historical Palestine.'"

"The essence of the Right of Return is the freedom of choice: the Palestinians should be given the right to choose their place of living, including the homes from which they were expelled. There is no historical precedent of a people that gave up its fundamental right to return to its homes, whether they were expelled or ran away out of fear. The Palestinian people will not be the one to create this precedent. Recognizing the Right of Return and allowing the refugees' freedom of choice are a prerequisite for ending the conflict."

"In addition to all that, the American proposal does not give any guarantee that the refugees' right for compensation and their right to reclaim their property will be fulfilled."

Security

"On the issue of security, the American side offered an international presence to guarantee the implementation of the agreement and an Israeli withdrawal within three years. In these three years, international forces will gradually replace Israel's forces. At the end of this period, an Israeli military [force] will be left in the Jordan Valley for additional three years under the command of the international forces."

"The US also proposed allowing Israel to keep three early warning stations for ten years and giving it the right to deploy its forces in the Palestinian lands in cases of 'national emergency.' In addition, the US proposed that Palestine be a 'non-militarized state.' While this proposal acknowledged the Palestinian sovereignty over Palestinian air space, it calls on both sides to come up with security arrangements regarding Israel's training and operational requirements."

"Although the American proposal is less of a burden on the Palestinian sovereignty than Israeli proposals of the past, it still raises some questions: there is no reason to give Israel three years to withdraw from the West Bank and Gaza Strip. In light of Israel's success in absorbing a million immigrants from former USSR in a few years, one year is more than enough to evacuate 60,000 settlers. In addition, it is unclear whether the proposed withdrawal period relates to all the soldiers and settlers who combine to form Israel's occupation forces in the Palestinian lands. A long withdrawal period may jeopardize the peaceful implementation of the agreement and will be a constant source of friction."

"In addition, Israel did not convince us that it needs to maintain forces in the Jordan Valley or that it should have the right to deploy forces in cases of emergency, let alone both combined, especially since there are international forces present in these lands. Israel does not need more than one early warning station in the West Bank to fulfill its strategic requirements. Leaving these stations in their current locations near Ramallah, Nablus, and in East Jerusalem will limit Palestinian development. Additionally, the American proposal gives Israel the absolute right to decide the timeframe for keeping these stations."

"The American proposal to establish special security arrangements in regard to Israeli training and operational requirements in Palestinian air space is also very problematic. Without clarifyingits intent, Israel may use this article to hold military training in Palestinian skies, with all the relevant dangers to Palestinian civilians and ecology. At the same time, the Israeli citizens will be spared these dangers. The Palestinian side is still committed to reach regional flying arrangements in keeping with international criteria. Any arrangements that contradict it will diminish Palestinian sovereignty and will damage the relations with other states in the region."

Other Issues

"The American proposal disregards other issues that are also vital to the establishment of a comprehensive and lasting peace-- The proposal disregards the issues of water, compensation for the damages caused by the occupation, ecology, future economic relations, and other bilateral issues."

Ending the Conflict

"While we emphasize our commitment to ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, we believe that this will be fulfilled only once all the issues that caused the conflict and led to its continuation have been solved. This cannot happen without a comprehensive agreement including detailed mechanisms for solving the core issues of the conflict. We must recall that the settlements Israel reached with Egypt and Jordan determined that the end of the conflict follow a final and detailed peace accord."

"Even if we put the requirements of international law and justice aside, the American proposals do not present even a pragmatic solution to the conflict, as long as they are not clarified. If real solutions are not found to the actual issues, any formula or text about the end of the conflict will remain void."

Conclusion

"We want to reemphasize our commitment to ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the basis of Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 and in keeping with international law. In view of the high price in human lives of the solution, we are well aware of the need to solve the conflict as soon as possible. However, we cannot accept a proposal that does not include the establishment of a viable Palestinian state that does not guarantee the right of the refugees to return to their homes."


[1] Al-Ayyam (PA), January 2, 2000.


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