Arafat, Carter, and the OJ Simpson verdict

By Vic Rosenthal

In a recent article, Camp David 2000 negotiator Dennis Ross discusses the way Carter and Arafat misrepresented the Clinton/Barak proposal, which he summarizes as follows:

Put simply, the Clinton parameters would have produced an independent Palestinian state with 100 percent of Gaza, roughly 97 percent of the West Bank and an elevated train or highway to connect them. Jerusalem’s status would have been guided by the principle that what is currently Jewish will be Israeli and what is currently Arab will be Palestinian, meaning that Jewish Jerusalem — East and West — would be united, while Arab East Jerusalem would become the capital of the Palestinian state.

The Palestinian state would have been “nonmilitarized,” with internal security forces but no army and an international military presence led by the United States to prevent terrorist infiltration and smuggling. Palestinian refugees would have had the right of return to their state, but not to Israel, and a fund of $30 billion would have been created to compensate those refugees who chose not to exercise their right of return to the Palestinian state.

After his rejection of the deal, Arafat claimed that he was offered only 90% of the West Bank. But, says Ross, “that was myth, not reality”. And Carter presents this as the ‘Palestinian interpretation’ of Clinton’s proposals, when in fact the map Carter used was of a much earlier Israeli proposal. Thus Carter lends support to those who say that the 2000 offer was not serious, or that the Palestinians were offered ‘Bantustans’.

The truth is that Arafat fully understood Clinton’s ideas and rejected them. Much like the OJ Simpson verdict, what was really surprising about Arafat’s rejection was not that it happened, but rather the way so many of us didn’t see it coming.

The trouble with the proposals, from Arafat’s point of view, was that they were too good. Most Western liberals would have felt that this was a fair 2-state solution which should easily meet the demands of the Palestinians as they had been expressed by Arafat and others in English. Had they been accepted, the world would have expected the Palestinians to stop terrorism and get on with building up a state. The conflict would be over.

But what Arafat had expressed in English was not what he and the great majority of Palestinians desired, and not what he and other Palestinian leaders had called for in Arabic. The only acceptable solution for Arafat, and indeed anyone who accepts the Fatah program, is one that leads to the replacement of Israel with an Arab state. The Fatah strategy, since 1974 has been the so-called phased plan, in which the Palestinian state works together with the confrontational Arab states to finally eliminate Israel.

Clinton’s proposal would create a Palestinian state, which — if the goal was to create an independent state living in peace with Israel — would be enough. But Arafat knew that once the proposal had been made, he could ‘pocket’ it. He understood that it would be hard for Israel to offer less in future negotiations.

And so, in order to force additional concessions — concessions not required for the creation of a Palestinian state but highly useful for the final struggle against Israel (for example, returning ‘refugees’ to Israel proper) — he rejected the Clinton/Barak offer and returned to terrorist mode.

Today, thank God, Arafat is gone. Hamas is straightforward in its goals and says the same things in English and Arabic. Fatah, however, has not changed its official policy. Mahmoud Abbas is a much more careful man than Arafat, but his recent statements that

The issue of the refugees is non-negotiable…we will not give up one inch of land in Jerusalem and we consider the settlements illegal. We also reject any attempt to resettle the refugees in other countries…

We will not give up our principles and we have said that rifles should be directed against the occupation.

indicate that the original Fatah strategy has not changed. Those in Israel and the US who think that a peaceful solution will come from supporting Abbas and Fatah should keep this in mind.

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