September 11, 2001 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 70

The (Revised) Palestinian Account of Camp David Part III: The Palestinian Strategic Goals

September 11, 2001 | By Y. Feldner*
Palestinians | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 70

The Palestinian Information Ministry document also addresses a question that was not included in the Camp David negotiations. "Have the Palestinians abandoned the two-state solution and do they now insist on all of historic Palestine?"

The Information Ministry's answer is: "The current situation has undoubtedly hardened positions on both sides with extremists in both Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories claiming all of historic Palestine. Nevertheless, there is no evidence that the PA or the majority of Palestinians have abandoned the two-state solution. The two-state solution however is most seriously threatened by the ongoing construction of Israeli colonies and bypass roads aimed at incorporating the Occupied Palestinian Territories into Israel. Without a halt to such construction, a two-state solution may simply be impossible to implement – already prompting a number of Palestinian academics and intellectuals to argue that Israel will never allow the Palestinians to have a viable state and Palestinians should instead focus their efforts on obtaining equal rights as Israeli citizens." (In the Hebrew version: "That is, to strive towards a democratic bi-national state.")

What Is the Palestinian Position?

A statement in an official Palestinian Information Ministry document saying that "there is no evidence" that the Palestinian Authority and most Palestinians have abandoned the two-state solution is strange. One could have expected that the ministry would set out an official position favoring two states, instead of using negative language, i.e. "there is no evidence…" – as if it were merely making an observation about the Palestinian Authority position.

The demand for "all of historic Palestine," attributed in the document to both Palestinian and Israeli extremists, is a long-standing ideological and religious claim that has not arisen from "the current situation."

Ideas of a "bi-national state," "a state of all its citizens," and a "secular democratic state" are also not new; they are based on ideology not on settlements, bypass roads, or despair because "Israelis will never allow the Palestinians to have a viable state." Intellectuals such as Edward Said and Azmi Bishura, and those who share their opinions in the PA territories had presented such ideas as an alternative to the Oslo Accords at the time of their signing, not as a result of their failure.

Moreover, there is enthusiastic support in PA circles for the various models of a bi-national state, primarily among the old guard. Even though these positions are not voiced by Arafat or by members of the Palestinian negotiating team, they are not restricted to academics and independent intellectuals, or to Islamic extremists.

Thus, for example, Faysal Al-Husseini, reiterated his position on the matter several times. For example, during a speech in Lebanon, he said, "A distinction must be drawn between the strategic aspirations of the Palestinian people, who are unwilling to relinquish a single speck of Palestinian territory, and [their] political striving, connected to the balance of power and the nature of the current international system… Our eyes will continue to be lifted to the strategic goal - that is, a Palestine from the river to the sea – [and] what we take today cannot make us forget this supreme truth."[1]

Fateh Central Committee member Sakhr Habash recently adopted a similar approach in a speech on Arafat's behalf: "If a democratic state is not established on all this land, peace will not be realized. We are now in the interim stages, through which we can make the Zionist society rid itself of Zionism. Zionism cannot coexist with the national Palestinian movement, and these Jews must rid themselves of the Zionism that takes them over and casts them into battles that do not serve their interests. They must be citizens of the state of the future – the democratic state of Palestine."[2]

Palestinian Minister of Supplies in the PA Cabinet, Abu Ali Shahin, declared several times that "the Oslo agreement was a precursor… The Palestinian Authority is a precursor of the Palestinian state, and the Palestinian state will be a precursor to the liberation of all Palestinian lands"; "We still insist on implementing what [the PLO] was established for on January 1, 1965, and the negotiation process is only a way station… we anticipate the establishment of a democratic Palestinian state in which Muslims, Christians, and Jews will live"; "The Fateh movement still adheres to the plan of January 1, 1965"; "the Oslo Accords will not be the end of the road. The Palestinian state is a transitional state, on the way to the great humane solution…"[3]

The New Palestinian Position on Camp David's Failure
The Information Ministry document states that Ehud Barak is to blame for the failure of the Camp David summit and the peace process. "What decisively undermined Palestinian support for the peace process," it states, "was the way Israel presented its proposal. Prior to entering into the first negotiations on permanent status issues, Prime Minister Barak publicly and repeatedly threatened Palestinians that his 'offer' would be Israel's best and final offer and if not accepted, Israel would seriously consider 'unilateral separation' (a euphemism for imposing a settlement rather than negotiating one). The Palestinians felt that they had been betrayed by Israel, who had committed itself at the beginning of the Oslo process to ending its occupation of Palestinian lands in accordance with UN Resolutions tack 242 and 338."

The Palestinian claim is not presented as a retrospective account after nearly a year of mini-war between the parties, but as the reality at the time the Camp David talks ended in July 2000, a reality which stemmed from Barak's declarations prior to the summit.

However, the Palestinian leaders' statements at the time reflected no sense of predestined failure. Then, they stated that the summit had not been a failure at all; on the contrary, it was a stunning success: "Contrary to the opinions of the many pundits who were not even there, Camp David was not a failure," wrote Saeb Ereqat in The Washington Post a week after the summit.[4] "Camp David was an important, even historic, step in the 52-year effort to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict. As someone who has been involved in negotiations since the 1992 Madrid Middle East Peace Conference, I can state categorically that Palestinians and Israelis are [now] closer to a comprehensive peace agreement than ever before. The end of our conflict is truly in sight. I say it without underestimating the gaps that still exist between the two sides on all issues."

In a Palestinian Television interview, Abu Mazen added his voice to Ereqat's albeit with slightly less enthusiasm: "I consider the Camp David summit a success in that it brought about an understanding of all the final status issues among the sides."[5]

In addition, it should be noted that the Palestinian Information Ministry document, which states that Barak was at fault for the summit's failure because of his threats of unilateral separation, disregards the fact that threats of unilateral actions were voiced by both sides. As early as 1996, Arafat began setting target dates for the unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state. Before and after the Camp David summit, the Palestinian and international press was full of declarations by Arafat and PLO heads that the state would be declared unilaterally, this time on September 13, 2000.

The Palestinian positions on the various elements of the final status agreement have not changed in the thirteen months since the Camp David summit. The only thing that has changed is the way in which the Palestinian positions during the summit are presented. This change is in accordance with the Palestinians' realization that in the international arena they are considered to be responsible for the summit's failure. In the revised Palestinian version of Camp David, the summit has been transformed from a "stunning success" to a failure. The "nobody is to blame" position stated by Saeb Ereqat right after the summit has turned into "Barak is to blame now." Israel's consent to Palestinian sovereignty over parts of East Jerusalem has been turned into an Israeli demand for sovereignty over all of East Jerusalem. The insult to Palestinians' sacred and just rights has turned into "non-viability" of the Palestinian state; and the resolute Palestinian demand for the return of refugees to Israel has turned into a claim that the Palestinians had agreed to "a choice" between options.

The corrosive effect of time on memory is not the issue here. It appears that the new Palestinian position derives from the need to adjust past positions to present political needs. At the summit's conclusion, Arafat needed to prove to the Arabs that he had resisted all pressures and had fought uncompromisingly. In contrast, Barak passed up an opportunity to entrench himself in the domestic political arena for the sake of political gains in the international arena, and paid for it by losing power.

Today, after nearly a year of violence, no one in the Palestinian street has any doubt about Arafat's loyalty to the cause, but his international status has seriously weakened. The Palestinian Information Ministry has changed tacks accordingly.

[1] Al-Safir (Lebanon), March 21, 2001; also see MEMRI Special Dispatch 197.

[2] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (Palestinian Authority), January 30, 2001.

[3] Respectively, Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (Palestinian Authority) January 4, 1998; Al Ayyam (Palestinian Authority), July 27, 1997; Al Ayyam(Palestinian Authority), December 31, 1997; Al Quds (Palestinian Authority) November 15, 2000.

[4] Washington Post, August 5, 2000.

[5] July 29, 2000, from the Web site of the Palestinian negotiating team:

Share this Report: