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“Israel’s camp david peace proposal: generous offer or sham?” in Australian Quarterly, Volume 76, No.1, January-February 2004, pp.14-17.

“Israel’s camp david peace proposal: generous offer or sham?” in Australian Quarterly, Volume 76, No.1, January-February 2004, pp.14-17.
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  “Israel’s camp david peace proposal: generous offer or sham?” inAustralian Quarterly, Volume 76, No.1, January-February 2004, pp.14-17. From mid-2000 till early 2001, the Israelis and Palestinians engaged in around of ultimately unsuccessful negotiations for a final peace settlement.The responsibility for this failure has since been a source of major international contention, and a key component in the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian propaganda war.Two polarized versions of these events are prevalent. The Israelis and their supporters claim that the Barak Government offered the Palestinians a viableand continguous independent Palestinian state in nearly all the territory of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. However, the Palestinians rejected this offer  because they could not reconcile themselves with the ongoing existence of the Jewish state of Israel. Instead, they launched a brutal and violenceIntifada in an attempt to coerce the Israelis into making greater concessionsthan would have occurred through diplomatic negotiations. Accordingly,there is little prospect of ever negotiating a peaceful two-state solution withthe Palestinians. i The Palestinian perspective is dichotomous. They argue that the Israelisoffered only a disconnected set of cantons which would not have allowed for a proper exercise of national political sovereignty. They contend that theIsraeli strategy was not to genuinely end the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, but rather to merely renegotiate the form and nature of theoccupation. A two-state solution is still possible provided the Israelis arewilling to withdraw from the Occupied Territories in toto. ii A Cultural Gulf between Concepts of Peace Before examining the actual details of what happened at Camp David and beyond, it is important to note that these polarized views also reflect the verydifferent approaches of the Israelis and Palestinians to peace making.The Israelis view peace in highly Western terms as the cessation of war andviolence following negotiations and mutual compromise. Consequently, theformer Barak Government saw the Camp David negotiations as a processinvolving concessions from both sides. The Israelis were genuinely willingto accept a Palestinian state based on ‘painful historic compromise that 1  would respect the rights of the other side’, iii provided the form of that statewas compatible with basic Israeli security and national requirements. For theIsraelis, this meant that any agreement would need to address their sense of ‘existential threat and vulnerability’ including concerns about potentialongoing Palestinian terrorism and irredentism, despite their vast superiorityin military power over the Palestinians. iv In contrast, the Palestinians have long defined peace not as the absence of war per se, but rather as the restoration of their national, territorial, and political rights. This is not a tangible or concrete concept that is easilyresolved via Western-style negotiations. v The Palestinians view themselvesas the victims of an historical wrong (the creation of the State of Israel in1948 and the associated Naqba or catastrophe) which can only be resolved by the implementation of a just solution. vi Justice is defined in absoluterather than relative terms. vii Consequently, the Palestinians argue that they already made their historicalcompromise when they agreed to recognize the State of Israel within its pre-1967 Green Line borders comprising 78 per cent of Mandatory Palestine.They view the peace process as being solely about the return of theremaining 22 per cent of Mandatory Palestine – the West Bank includingEast Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip- to its rightful owner. No bargaining or reciprocity is required. viii As can be seen, there is little common ground between the competing Israeliand Palestinian narratives. ix What was offered at Camp David? From 11-24 July 2000, US President Bill Clinton, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, Palestinian National Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat andother officials and advisers met at Camp David to negotiate a final peacesettlement. The negotiations ended in total failure.According to the Israeli version of events, the Palestinians were offered theestablishment of a Palestinian state in 92 per cent of the West Bank and thewhole of the Gaza Strip including some territorial compensation for thePalestinians from pre-1967 Israeli territory; the removal of most Jewishsettlements and the concentration of the remaining Jewish settlements withinthe 8 per cent of the West Bank to be annexed by Israel; the establishment of  2  the Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem in which some Arab suburbs would become sovereign Palestinian territory and others would enjoy ‘functionalautonomy’; Palestinian sovereignty over half the Old City of Jerusalemcomprising the Muslim and Christian quarters and ‘custodianship’ thoughnot sovereignty over the Temple Mount; and a return of 1948 refugees to the proposed Palestinian state though with no ‘right of return’ to Israel.The former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak specifically denied claimsthat this Palestinian state was to comprise a set of disconnected ‘cantons’ or ‘bantustans’. On the contrary, he argued that the Palestinians were offered a‘continuous piece of sovereign territory except for a razor-thin Israeli wedgerunning from Jerusalem through from Maale Adunim to the Jordan River.Here, Palestinian territorial continuity would have been assured by a tunnelor bridge’. x The Palestinian view is very different. They deny that there was any‘documented’ Israeli offer to end the occupation of Palestinian territory.Specifically, they claim that the proposal tabled was American rather thanIsraeli, that eight security conditions demanded by Israel within the 92 per cent of the West Bank offered potentially undermined Palestiniansovereignty, and that basic Palestinian claims regarding Jerusalem andrefugees were not addressed. xi Some critics of Israel go even further. For example, the late Edward Saidlabelled the Israeli peace proposal ‘chimerical nonsense’, claiming that thePalestinians were offered only 50 per cent of the West Bank in separatedcantons, 10 per cent was to be annexed by Israel, and 40 per cent was to besubject to future negotiation. xii Palestinian academic Hanan Ashrawi calledthe offer a ‘sham, an occupier’s version of what’s good for the natives. xiii  Radical Left Israeli academic Tanya Reinhart claimed Barak ‘offerednothing at Camp David except the preservation of the existing state of affairs’. xiv And another critic suggests that the proposal ‘would have meantno territorial contiguity for the Palestinian state, no control of its external borders, limited control of its own water resources…continued Israelimilitary control over large segments of the West Bank including almost allof the Jordan Valley, and the continued presence of fortified Israelisettlements and settler-only roads in the heart of the Palestinian state. xv  So what really happened at Camp David? On the one hand, there is littledoubt that Barak’s proposal was unprecedented compared to those of  3   previous Israeli Prime Ministers in terms of compromising on Israel’s corenarrative. Particularly noteworthy concessions were around accepting adivision of Jerusalem, agreeing to eventual Israeli withdrawal from theJordan Valley, endorsing the principle of swapping Israeli territory for annexed areas of the West Bank, and recognizing Palestinian rights to anindependent state. xvi It is also true that it was not technically an Israeli offer, but rather an American proposal which the Israelis nevertheless accepted,albeit orally rather than in writing. xvii However, the proposal did come withsome serious qualifications and unanswered questions around Israeli securitydemands and settlements.For example, the stated figure of 92 per cent did not include the annexedsuburbs of Greater East Jerusalem and the area of the Dead Sea (reducingthe land mass by about four per cent), or the Jordan Valley (constitutingabout 20 per cent of the West Bank) which was to remain under Israelicontrol for between 10-25 years. In addition, the hardline Jewish settlementof Qiryat Arba would remain under Israeli administration in the centre of Palestinian territory, and whilst the Palestinians would acquire guardianshipover the Muslim holy places in Jerusalem, the Israelis would retainsovereignty. The Israelis would also retain control of the border crossings between the Palestinian state and Egypt and Jordan. Most significantly, theannexation of the major settlement blocs to Israel would have the potential(despite the provision of safe passage) to divide the areas of Palestiniansovereignty into disconnected enclaves. xviii Was it a generous proposal? Only if you believe that Israel rather than thePalestinians has a stronger moral or legal claim to sovereignty in theterritories? Alternatively was it a sham? Only if you believe that Israel is anillegitimate state which has no right to negotiate in defence of its coresecurity concerns. In short, the Israelis made a reasonable proposal whichwent some way (but perhaps not quite far enough) to meeting minimumreasonable Palestinian aspirations. It was a proposal which at least deserveda serious counter-offer from the Palestinians. xix But the Palestinian responseappears to have been a flat no, and a refusal to offer any concessions or compromises on their core demands: sovereignty over all of the Gaza Stripand West Bank including East Jerusalem, and the right of the 1948 refugeesto return to Israel. xx Further Negotiations at Taba 4  Following the failure of the Camp David negotiations and the outbreak of the Palestinian Intifada in September 2000, the American President BillClinton placed new peace proposals on the table. These proposals werediscussed in detail at Taba in late January 2001 shortly prior to the Israelielection which swept Ehud Barak and his Israeli Labor Party coalition from power.The Israelis endorsed American proposals for a withdrawal from 95 per centof the West Bank with substantial territorial compensation for thePalestinians from Israel proper. In addition, the Arab neighbourhoods of Jerusalem would become sovereign Palestinian territory, and thePalestinians would gain sovereignty over the surface area of the TempleMount with the Israelis retaining sovereignty over the earth underneath. TheIsraelis also agreed to an international force at least temporarily controllingthe Jordan river line between the West Bank and the Kingdom of Jordaninstead of the IDF. xxi The Palestinians also accepted the Clinton parametersin principle, but only after a long delay during which they raised serious andsubstantial reservations which amounted in practice to rejection. xxii Most commentators argue that these proposals were more generous thanthose offered at Camp David, and went far closer to meeting minimumPalestinian aspirations for a continguous and sovereign state. xxiii Indeed, atthe end of the talks, both sides issued a positive joint statement indicatingthat ‘Given the circumstances and time constraints, it proved impossible toreach understandings on all issues, despite the substantial progress that wasachieved in each of the issues discussed. The sides declare that they havenever been closer to reaching an agreement and it is thus our shared belief that the remaining gaps could be bridged with the resumption of negotiationsfollowing the Israeli elections’. xxiv Yet Benny Morris later claimed arguably with some justification that thisassertion was ‘hogwash’. xxv Certainly on the key issue of the Palestinianrefugees, there was little common ground. The Palestinians continued toinsist that Israel take moral and legal responsibility for the creation of therefugee problem, and recognize the right of refugees to return to Israel. Inresponse, the Israeli negotiators (who included prominent doves such asYossi Bellin and Yossi Sarid) denied any historical or moral responsibilityfor the refugee exodus, and refused to recognize any right of return. Thisstance reflected the Israeli consensus that any significant return of Palestinian refugees would potentially transform the Jewish State of Israel 5
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