The Palestinian Information Ministry addressed the Israeli proposal on Jerusalem at Camp David as follows: "The [Israeli] proposals at Camp David demanded that the Palestinians relinquish every claim [in Arabic: 'all the rights'] to the occupied parts of Jerusalem. The proposal would require the Palestinians to recognize the Israeli annexation of all of Arab East Jerusalem."
The document further states: "In talks after Camp David, it was suggested that Israel was prepared to allow Palestinians sovereignty over isolated Palestinian neighborhoods in the heart of East Jerusalem, however such neighborhoods would remain surrounded by illegal Israeli colonies and separated not only from each other, but also from the rest of the Palestinian state. In effect, such a proposal would create Palestinian ghettos in the heart of Jerusalem."
The document's central claim, therefore, is that any sovereignty in East Jerusalem was proposed to the Palestinians only in talks held after the Camp David summit. While at the summit itself what was proposed was, in fact, the Israeli annexation of the entire eastern part of the city, which is why there is no wonder that the Palestinians rejected the proposal.
Yet this claim contradicts statements by senior Palestinians after the end of the summit. Although the Jerusalem proposals at Camp David were obviously not satisfactory to the Palestinians, they did offer some Palestinian sovereignty in the eastern part of the city. Abu Mazen himself said that "once, they talked about [Palestinian] sovereignty over the villages surrounding Jerusalem, autonomy in the neighborhoods outside the [Old City] walls, and special status inside the walls; another time, they talked about [Palestinian] sovereignty over the neighborhoods outside the walls, autonomy in the surrounding villages, and special status for the neighborhoods within the walls."
During the summit too, the Americans put forth a proposal to divide the Old City so that the Jewish and Armenian quarters would be under Israeli sovereignty and the Christian and Muslim quarters would be under Palestinian sovereignty. Barak did not reject this proposal. The Palestinians were unwilling to recognize any Israeli sovereignty whatsoever in the Old City area. Saeb Ereqat said about this proposal: "Clinton said that the Palestinians would have full sovereignty over the Muslim and Christian quarters; as for the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, the [UN] Security Council will take a decision to hand it over to Palestine and Morocco, the chair of the Jerusalem Committee, while Israel maintains full sovereignty over it."
President Clinton's advisor Robert Malley himself determined that "in Jerusalem, Palestine would have been given sovereignty over the many Arab neighborhoods of the eastern half [of the city], and over the Muslim and Christian quarters of the Old City." Malley stated that the Palestinians refused because of Israel's demand for sovereignty over Al-Haram Al-Sharif. Indeed, the disagreement at Camp David centered on the question of the Temple Mount and of what came to be called the "holy basin."
When the Palestinian leaders left the summit, they did not claim that they had been offered no sovereignty over East Jerusalem. They said they had rejected the proposal because of Israel's various claims to the Al-Aqsa compound, because of its uncompromising demand for sovereignty over the Western Wall, and because of its demand for sovereignty in the Armenian quarter. According to Saeb Ereqat, Arafat said: "I will not agree to Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem, in the Armenian quarter, over the Al Aqsa Mosque, in the Via Dolorosa, or over the Church of the Holy Sepulcher." Recently, Arafat also said that according to the Camp David proposal, the Israelis "would take over the churches and the Armenian quarter. I told them, 'My name is Arafatian,' to indicate my affiliation with the Armenian ethnic group and [my commitment] to the protection of their rights."
Therefore, it can be said that the Israeli and American proposals at Camp David were not compatible with the minimum demands set out by the Palestinians. But it would be wrong to claim that at issue was Israel's annexation of "all Arab East Jerusalem," as the Palestinian Information Ministry claims.
A Change of Tack in Palestinian Public Relations
The section on Jerusalem in the Palestinian Information Ministry account reflects the Palestinian leadership's attempt to retroactively change its image with regard to its position at the Camp David summit. The document makes no mention of the bone of contention – Al-Haram Al-Sharif, an issue that was discussed for many days.
When the Palestinian leadership left the Camp David summit, it enumerated three main reasons why it found the Israeli proposal unacceptable: its affront to the sanctity of Jerusalem, its impingement on the just rights of the refugees, and its insult to rights, honor, and justice with regard to the territorial issue. Obviously, all these claims were in the emotional and symbolic sphere.
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The Western world found it difficult (and still does) to accept emotional and symbolic claims, especially when they are contrasted with what was viewed as Prime Minister Barak's slaughter of all Israel's sacred cows and his compromise on all Israel's symbols in favor of what he conceived as a realistic solution. The West found it even harder to comprehend the Palestinians' clinging to emotional and symbolic themes against the backdrop of the renewed bloodshed.
When Arafat returned from Camp David, a mass rally was held in Gaza City in his honor. "Jerusalem is all Jerusalem, not only the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Al-Haram, or the Armenian quarter," he declared, adding that "anyone who doesn't like it should go drink from the Dead Sea." The world refused to accept this attitude, and labeled him rejectionist.
Hanan Ashrawi, who was recently appointed Arab League spokeswoman, acknowledged that the Palestinians' handling of the international media was "shocking" and "catastrophic," and that this was why Barak had managed to convince the world that Arafat was to blame. "The Palestinian leaders spoke to the UN as if they were talking to a bunch of Palestinians on the street in Gaza," she said.
The Palestinians' growing awareness of the damage to their image following the Camp David summit led to a change of tact in PR efforts, which now began to focus on realistic arguments.
Now, the Palestinians are claiming that the proposal at Camp David was rejected because it was not "viable" – not because it violated "just" and "sacred" rights, and not because it was an affront to the honor of the Palestinians. Al-Haram Al-Sharif, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the Western Wall, the Wailing Wall, the Al-Burraq Wall, Arafat's denial that a Jewish Temple ever existed on the site, and the discussion of questions such as whether Jews would be permitted to blow the shofar at the Western Wall plaza or whether Arab donkey traffic would be allowed only before a certain hour in the morning – all these issues are not to be found in the Palestinian Information Ministry document. Instead, a single term appeared again and again: viability.
The Camp David proposal, "denied the Palestinian state viability and independence"; "such a Palestinian state would have had less sovereignty and less viability than the Bantustans created by the South African apartheid regime." The Palestinians "seek to establish a viable and sovereign state on their own territory"; and "no people can be expected to compromise fundamental rights or the viability of their state."
This shift in image and PR is also evident in the question of the size of the area on which the Palestinian state is to be established. The Palestinians are now demanding 100% of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, seeing this as the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 242. This is documented in countless statements, including one by Abu Mazen, who once said, "I will cut off my hand if it signs an agreement in which even one centimeter of Palestinian territory conquered in 1967 is missing." As a conciliatory move, the Palestinians declared their willingness to accept a limited swap of territories equal in size and quality, so that the total area of their state would be equal to 100% of the area of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Such was their position at Camp David, and it remains their position today.
After the Camp David summit, it became accepted by the international community that the Palestinians had been offered a state on the territory of the Gaza Strip and 95% of the West Bank. This figure was mentioned also by a number of senior Palestinian leaders, among them Faisal Husseini who in March 2001 said: "Barak agreed to withdraw from 95% of the Palestinian lands occupied before 1967… If we undermine Sharon and his [promised] security, no one else will be able to conduct a dialogue with us that does not start where Barak left off – that is, our right to 95% of the territory."
However, now there is a Palestinian consensus that the Camp David proposal concerned only over 91% of the West Bank being handed over to the Palestinians and an additional percentage be granted to Israel for a long-term lease, as Malley sets forth in his New York Times article. Yet the Palestinian Information Ministry does not present any figure for the size of the state offered to the Palestinians. Instead, it focuses on the parts that Israel seeks to keep for itself, i.e. the annexation of some 9% of the West Bank in exchange for 1% in a land swap. "However," the Information Ministry emphasizes, "the question is not one of percentages. It is a question of the independence and viability of the state." According to the new Palestinian PR strategy, Israel's holding on to parts of the West Bank damages the viability of the Palestinian state, rather than impinges upon the just rights of the Palestinians according to the Palestinian interpretation of Resolution 242.
*Yotam Feldner is MEMRI's Director of Media Analysis.