September 25, 2002 Special Dispatch No. 422

Liberal Egyptian Intellectual on the Arab Regimes' Role in Missing the Opportunity of Camp David 2000

September 25, 2002
Egypt | Special Dispatch No. 422

In a recent article published in the London Arabic-language daily Al-Hayat, liberal Egyptian author Amin Al-Mahdi[1] criticized the Arab regimes for their exploitation of the Palestinian issue and their role in the Palestinian rejection of President Clinton's peace proposals of July 2000

Arafat & Camp David 2000
"Historic moments usually force peoples and their leaders to make a fateful choice between participating in the making of history, and falling beneath its wheels. There is no doubt that the second half of 2000 was a fateful and dangerous moment in the history of the Palestinian people, and its ramifications have spread across the entire Arab world. The results show that the Palestinian leadership, and behind it the Arab political and media atmosphere, have not risen to the level required in order to make a [correct historic] choice."

"One of the consequences was that the Palestinian issue has reverted to a point below zero. Not only did the Palestinians miss a genuine opportunity for a reasonable settlement that would have enabled the Palestinians to integrate into the modern age, taking the reins of change [into their hands]; they lost its previous gains: the Camp David II negotiations."

"The Palestinian people had a state in the making that had clearly progressed. [This state] included eight large cities and 400 villages, and serious negotiations [were underway] regarding two villages inside Jerusalem... [It had] a port, an airport, an airline, and headquarters in Jerusalem… a parliamentary building under construction in Abu Dis; active tourism; reasonable tax revenues; fledgling industry; considerable trade with Jordan, Israel, and the European Union; agriculture that had accumulated knowledge. It had... 127,000 workers in Israel with an average income of $100 [a month]... esteemed educational institutions and an identity; [It had] police and intelligence apparatuses and prisons (more than necessary); media institutions; a government administration; and international political and economic support."

"Most important, there was an entity and an urban elite capable of leading the first Intifada with success rare in the Arab world. This elite was capable of addressing the Israeli people and mobilizing broad sectors of it to support the Palestinian cause. President Arafat held the record for visits to the White House. The national Palestinian entity was visited by many presidents, headed by Clinton and Chirac, and most of the world's prime ministers and foreign ministers. The declaration of the state was within arm's reach - or closer. President Clinton's proposals… made an opening for a chance for change and progress."

"Although President Arafat has admitted that he was mistaken in his rejection of Clinton's proposals (Haaretz, June 21, 2002), his words are of no avail. But he should have explained honestly why he rejected these proposals, why it was a mistake, and why admitting the mistake had taken so long. I think the situation deteriorated to a point that exceeds the mistake of rejecting the Clinton peace proposal. That rejection was a link in the tragic chain of errors that included turning to violence (as it is written in the Mitchell Report which was accepted by all sides), forming a direct and organic alliance with the factions of political Islam prior to the negotiations, and transferring the leadership of the Palestinian street to the 'punks of the Al-Fakahani republic.'[2] Thus, the principle of peace negotiations was completely defeated. This significantly helped the fall of the Israeli left - the center of gravity [of Israeli support for] a peaceful resolution - and with it fell the peace camp."

"In the clamor of the world battle against terrorism, the violence with a religious nature - particularly that fueled by young men and women who come from poverty, oppression, and despair, who have been brainwashed to carry out suicide attacks against civilians with criminal results - has become a remake of the September 11 events, and a permanent reminder to the world that terror is Arab and Islamic. Thus, the moral weight of the Palestinian issue began to erode; the difference between Sharon's violence and Palestinian violence faded away; and the third Palestinian transfer - that is, the Jordanian solution - became more imminent than ever, especially if we consider the political vacuum that would be created were the Iraqi regime to be forcibly replaced."

"… The external [Palestinian] damage is even worse. The new American administration is made up of neo-conservatives… according to whose mentality the Palestinian leadership is incapable of choosing the path of peace. When [the administration] demanded that President Arafat fight 'terror,' it asked the impossible, because [Arafat] has already gone very far down a path from which there is no return…"

The Arab Regimes and Camp David II
"When Arafat returned from Camp David, his masses carried him on their shoulders as a symbol of respect for his achieving nothing. The Arab propaganda apparatuses and the statements by top officials in some Arab countries played a significant role in these strange festivities. It was the right moment to add conditions making the problem irresolvable, such as adherence to the refugees' right of return to Israel - meaning, simply, the establishment of two Palestinian states. Furthermore, a demagogic attack lacking any objective basis [was launched] against Clinton and the U.S. policy (there are many reasons to criticize American policy, but I do not think that Clinton's peace plan was one of them)."

"All this was evidence of the retrograde direction in which the peace process had gone… Along with this was the exaggerated aggrandizement of the Hizbullah victory [in south Lebanon], which took on nearly mythological proportions - while it was a mere tactical victory that changed nothing in the balance of power. This continued for six miserable months, until all hope of preserving the principle of peaceful negotiations was lost when Sharon came to power - as Sharon is the best possible partner for this dance of death."

"…In my personal opinion, no matter what peace proposal Clinton presented to the Arab side, it was sure to be rejected. This is because the Palestinian issue was always the main source of legitimacy for the revolutionary [Arab] regimes that established rural or tribal military republics. The Palestinian issue was always the subject of 'Announcement No. 1' of all these [Arab military coups]. More important, it was the prop for the war declared on democracy and modernization [by the Arab regimes], an eternal pretext for the bill of divorce from the free world and for imposing various laws, from emergency laws through military laws."

"Since regional tensions, including the Arab-Israeli conflict, were one of the fronts of the Cold War, when the reorganization of the world began… the military (ex-revolutionary) Arab democracies suffered from pressure caused by this reorganization - for example, with the erosion of national sovereignty, the free market, the globalization of human rights, the [establishment of] international courts, and the rise of the era of the peoples. The Arab regime tried to create a kind of new Cold War, by forming an alliance with Islamic fundamentalism and establishing a new shadow empire in Central Asia."

"The centers of tension, such as the Palestinian issue, [the war in] southern Sudan, and the friction in the Gulf, took the place of the Iron Curtain and the Berlin Wall, making it possible to man the barricades, to close themselves off, and to create polarization with the entire world… The situation became so extreme that these military republics allowed themselves to become royal houses, where political cloning was allowed through offspring."

"Clinton's proposal was no more than a peace offensive against this Arab regime, and against its iron curtain in Palestine and southern Sudan. The aim [of this offensive] was to open the region to the changes of the post-Cold War era. It was a perfect American achievement and thus encountered cruel resistance, with no examination of what was good for the Palestinian people. When President Clinton left the White House, he took his proposals with him, leaving it to new tenants that do not believe [in his way]…"

"Thus, Abu Ammar [Arafat] again turned the Palestinian people into a human shield protecting the Arab regime from the aggression of modernism and freedom. That is, he actually made the Palestinian issue revert to being an Arab [issue]. If only he would have settled for this - but he compensated political Islam for its humiliating defeat in Afghanistan and southeast Asia, for its bad reputation, and for its persecution throughout the entire world…"[3]

[1] To read other articles authored by Amin Al-Mahdi, see MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 104: Human Development in the Arab World: A Study by the United Nations and Special Dispatch No. 169: الفاتيكان يدعو المسلمين لاحترام حقوق المسيحيين في بلدانهم

[2] A reference to the PLO's rule in West Beirut during the 1980s.

[3] Al-Hayat (London), September 9, 2002.

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