August 3, 2000 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 35

Camp David and the Prospects for a Final Settlement, Part I: Israeli, Palestinian, and American Positions

August 3, 2000 | By Yigal Carmon and Aluma Dankowitz*
Palestinians | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 35

The Camp David Summit was convened due to pressure from Israeli PM Barak. He insisted that its goals be the end of the conflict and a final settlement, rather than another interim agreement, which he deemed "dangerous to Israel," as long as the overall direction of the peace process and the PLO's final goals are not clarified.[1]

This ran contrary PA Chairman Arafat's position, as well as the recommendations of some of Barak's coalition members, such as Labor party Leader, Minister Haim Ramon, and former Education Minister and Meretz leader Yossi Sarid, who prefer the interim agreement track, which circumvents the problem of the PLO's final goals.[2]

Akram Haniya, an advisor to Arafat and editor of the PA daily Al-Ayyam, who participated in the summit, believes that "Barak convinced President Clinton that the PLO is so weak and desperately eager to achieve an independent Palestinian state, that it would be willing to moderate its final goals in exchange for formal recognition of their state by the US and a financial support package of billions of dollars."[3] The American negotiating team, claims Haniya, disregarded the Palestinian warnings that "[the Americans] are making a grave mistake [if they] believe that Arafat can sign an agreement that does not answer to their minimum national rights." According to Haniya, "It seems that the Americans and the Israelis jointly created an assessment according to which reaching a final settlement ending to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was possible…This assessment apparently stemmed from a lack of rational ability to understand the Palestinian reality…[it was] a strange mix of the arrogance of power, superciliousness, lack of professionalism, amateur political behavior, and a desperate attempt on the part of some in the American team for any political achievement, before the new American administration comes in. [In conclusion], this was just another repetition of typical American diplomatic folly in the Middle East."[4]

Barak also set an alternate objective for the summit: if a settlement is not reached, at least "the PLO's positions will be exposed. And consequently, unity will be achieved amongst the Israelis, who will now know – in case the Palestinians clash with Israel – that we tried everything we could to avoid it."[5]

Israeli Positions Unveiled at the Summit

Barak deviated – in an indirect and conditional fashion[6] – from some of his (and Israel's) long-standing ''red lines'' and softened some of his positions as follows:

  • He agreed to "divide Jerusalem," by transferring sovereignty in remote Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem to the PA. He also expressed readiness to consider – if the Palestinians endorsed this American proposal – the transfer of sovereignty in the Muslim and Christian quarters of the Old City, maintaining Israeli sovereignty on the Temple Mount, while assigning the Palestinians the status of Custodians of the Holy Places on the Temple Mount, and allotting a small site of the Temple Mount for Jewish prayers.[7]
  • He accepted the idea of transferring pre-67 Israeli territories to PA control in exchange for blocks of settlements in the territories to be annexed by Israel.
  • He accepted the concept of the humanitarian framework of family reunions, allowing some refugees to return to pre-67 Israel as well as the Palestinian state.[8]
  • He was prepared to withdraw from parts of the Jordan valley.[9]

PLO Positions Unveiled at the Summit

Contrary to prevailing convictions among Israeli political observers (as well as among others in the west,) during the summit the Palestinians revealed that their demands are not mere tactical positions, but rather non-negotiable strategic goals and principles.[10] These demands were:

  • The full implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 242 regarding Jerusalem,[11] namely: the demand for Palestinian sovereignty not only in Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem but also in the Old City, including the Temple Mount and the Western Wall. (Regarding the Western Wall, the Palestinians expressed willingness to discuss special arrangements in order to secure Jewish religious activities at this site.)[12]
  • The implementation of UN General Assembly Resolution 194, including the principle of Israel's responsibility for the Palestinian refugee problem and the right of all refugees to return if they wish.[13] According to PLO Executive Committee Chairman Abu Mazen, the Palestinian delegation opposed any limitation on the number of refugees allowed to return to Israel "even if they [the Israelis] offered us the return of three million refugees."[14] The refugee issue received limited media coverage compared to the Jerusalem issue. However, both Barak and Arafat emphasized that on this issue, too, the sides have reached an impasse. Barak himself noted that the Palestinians did not yield on the Palestinian right of return issue, which might prevent the sides from reaching an agreement to end the conflict.[15] In a Ramallah speech, on his return from the summit, Arafat emphasized that "the return of the refugees is sacred, and its sanctity is not less than that [assigned to] the holy places [in Jerusalem]."[16]

The Israeli and Palestinian positions and the gaps between these positions were revealed on two occasions. First, when the PLO rejected the American bridging proposals on July 13[17], Barak, in a letter to Clinton announcing his departure from Camp David, wrote: "much to my regret, I have concluded that the Palestinian side is not conducting negotiations in good faith and is not prepared to seriously discuss achieving a permanent peace between us, and therefore is not a peace partner."[18] The second took place on July 24[19], when Barak, responding to President Clinton about a new American bridging document, told the president that he would accept Palestinian sovereignty only over the Muslim and Christian quarters of the old city if Arafat also endorsed the proposal. Arafat formally rejected the document in writing.[20]

American Positions Unveiled at the Summit

During the summit, some US positions were revealed as well. These positions were:

  • The principle of compromise relates not only to the Israelis but also to the Palestinians, specifically regarding the post-1967 territories.[21]
  • The US does not endorse the Palestinian interpretation of UN Security Council Resolution 242.[22]
  • The US will reevaluate its relations with the Palestinians if they unilaterally declare a Palestinian state, including the possibility of relocating the American Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.[23]

*Yigal Carmon is President of MEMRI. Aluma Solnik is a Research Associate at MEMRI.

[1] Ha'aretz (Israel), July 31, 2000.

[2] In an interview on Israeli television, July 27, 2000, Minister Haim Ramon said that the idea that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict could be brought to an end was unrealistic, since the Palestinians cannot agree to it at this stage of their national experience. In an interview on Israeli radio, July 28, 2000, Knesset member Yossi Sarid said that he already told Barak a year ago that there was no chance for a permanent settlement with the Palestinians that includes Jerusalem, but "for some people [hinting at Barak's ambition], an interim agreement is too small a goal."

[3] PLO Executive Committee Chairman Abu Mazen stated that billions of dollars were offered to the Palestinians, but "we rejected these [offers] and said that our rights are not for sale." Al-Ayyam, July 30, 2000.

[4] Al-Ayyam, July 29, 2000.

[5] See Minister of Internal Security Shlomo Ben-Ami's interview with Ha'aretz, July 27, 2000.

[6] Barak not only explicitly conditioned Israeli concessions, but he also avoided any working meetings on the record with Arafat so that the Palestinian side did not document his positions, or be able to claim that Barak made binding commitments to him. Furthermore, Barak did not give any Israeli documents to the Palestinians. Rather his offers were presented as American ideas and it was Minister Ben-Ami who negotiated with Arafat. Yediot Aharonot (Israel), July 28, 2000 and Ha'aretz, July 27, 2000.

[7] According to PLC Speaker Abu 'Alaa, "The Israelis claimed that under the Mosques there is something that belongs to them. This means that in a few years they will tear down the Mosques. This is the most dangerous proposal." Al-Ayyam, July 30, 2000. Another reliable Palestinian source was surprised by this proposal, "which resembles the offer put forth by radical Israeli religious movements which call for the destruction of the Mosques and for building a new Temple [in their place]." Al-Hayat (London) July 31, 2000. PA Minister for International Planning and Cooperation Nabil Sha'ath argued that, "Israel demands control of the Temple Mount based on its claim that its fictitious temple stood there." Al-Ayyam, July 27, 2000. According to Minister Ben-Ami, PA negotiator Saeb 'Ereiqat also claimed that there is no proof that the Jewish temple was underneath the Temple Mount. Yediot Aharonot, July 28, 2000 and Ha'aretz, July 27, 2000.

[8] Ha'aretz July 14, 2000.

[9] The extent of territory that Barak was willing to transfer to the Palestinians was never accurately reported, according to different versions the percentage ranged from 85% to 94.5%.

[10] In view of these positions, it seems that the even more far-reaching Israeli compromises recommended by Columnist Uzi Benziman in Ha'aretz, July 28, 2000, following talks with government ministers, such as: "an additional effort of formulation and an enhanced, declarative generosity to the Palestinian right of return" – would not moderate the Palestinian position.

[11] According to Al-Quds (Palestinian), July 20, 2000, Arafat told Barak and Clinton that "the Arab leader willing to give up Jerusalem has not yet been born." According to Israel Television Channel 1, July 28, 2000, and Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), July 28, 2000, in a speech in Ramallah on his arrival from the summit, Arafat emphasized that the PLO's demand for sovereignty in Jerusalem "does not only refer to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Temple Mount Mosques, and the Armenian quarter, but it is Jerusalem in its entirety, entirety, entirety." PA Minister of Jerusalem Affairs Faisal Al-Husseini stated that the Palestinians never agreed to "the Israeli proposal to divide the Old City into neighborhoods." Al-Ayyam, August 2, 2000.

[12] During the negotiations, Arafat stressed that "The British Mandate administration stated as early as 1929 that the Western Wall is the Al-Buraq Wall [where, according to Muslim tradition, the prophet Muhammad landed on his night journey from Mecca to Jerusalem] and that it is considered a Muslim religious endowment [waqf] to which the Palestinians hold historic rights. Al-Hayat daily, July 27, 2000. Secretary-General of the PA Presidency, Al-Tayeb Abd Al-Rahim and PLC Speaker Abu 'Alaa also clarified that the Palestinians would be willing to discuss Israel's needs, such as travel arrangements to the Western Wall, and that they are willing to reach an agreement that takes such needs into consideration. However, according to Abu 'Alaa, "It is pointless to discuss [these] details before Israel recognizes Palestinian sovereignty in Jerusalem." Al-Quds, July 25, 2000 and Al-Ayyam, July 30, 2000.

[13] According to Nahum Barne'a in Yediot Aharonot, July 28, 2000, the Palestinians submitted extremist paperwork to the Refugee Bilateral Negotiating Committee "in which [they] drew parallels between Israel and Nazi Germany, [assigning both the same level of] injustice and use of similar methods of [reaching solutions]."

[14] Al-Ayyam, July 30, 2000.

[15] Israeli Radio, July 28, 2000, reported by Yoni Ben-Menahem.

[16] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, July 28, 2000. Also, see Arafat's comments in Al-Hayat, July 27, 2000.

[17] See Al-Quds headline, July 22, 2000: "Palestinians Refuse American Proposal." According to Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, July 13, 2000, and Al-Hayat, July 16, 2000: Israel's proposals regarding Jerusalem and the refugees upset Arafat and he threatened to leave Camp David. However, President Clinton retracted his proposals and a headline in Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, July 16, 2000 stated: "the Palestinian delegation rejects an American working paper."

[18] Yediot Aharonot and Ha'aretz, July 20, 2000.

[19] Ha'aretz, July 27, 2000.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Interview with Aaron Miller to Al-Quds, August 2, 2000.

[22] Akram Haniya, editor of Al-Ayyam and Arafat's close advisor, claimed that the US "shattered" UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 as a source of authority to the political process. Al-Ayyam, August 1, 2000.

[23] President Clinton also adopted an old Israeli claim for a link between the Palestinian refugees and the Jewish refugees from Arab countries in 1948, with a parallel need for compensation. Ha'aretz, July 30, 2000.

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