Barak’s generous offer was not a myth

Sometimes you have to repeat the same facts over and over, because the other side never stops lying about them.

A case in point is the Clinton-Barak offer to Yasser Arafat in December 2000. Supporters of Israel have held that the offer was more than fair, an indication that Israel was prepared to make real sacrifices for peace, and that Arafat’s rejection of it and the ensuing intifada were proof of Palestinian unwillingness to accept any reasonable compromise.

Arafat — and since then Jimmy Carter and other supporters of the Palestinian cause — have claimed that the offer was not reasonable at all. For example, Lawrence Davidson — who, incidentally will be presenting several papers at a forthcoming conference sponsored by the California State University Fresno Middle East Studies Program — wrote the following:

The “generous offer” has been disproved by both American and Israeli experts. For instance, among others, Robert Malley, President Clinton’s advisor on Israeli-Arab affairs who was at Camp David II; Ron Pundak, Director of the Peres Center for Peace; Professor Jeff Halper (Ben Gurion University); Uri Avnery, head of Gush Shalom, Israel’s foremost peace organization; and finally Ehud Barak himself has twice (in the New York Times of May 24, 2001 and in the Israeli hebrew newspaper Yedi’ot Ahronoth of August 29, 2003) denied that his offer was anywhere near “generous.”

What did Barak really offer? According to the above reports his offer gave the Palestinians a little over 80% of the West Bank carved into nearly discontinuous cantons. The Israeli government would have controlled all the Palestinian borders (none of which would touch on another Arab state), it would have controlled the air space above the Palestinian territory, most of the major aquifers, retained sovereignty over East Jerusalem, maintained almost all Israeli settlements and access roads, controlled immigration into the Palestinian “state,” and retained the Jordan Valley through an indefinite “long term lease.” This is an offer that no Israeli would ever accept. However, most Israelis and Americans do not know these details and believe instead in the myth of generosity. — Davidson, “Orwell and Kafka in Israel/Palestine

Before discussing the substance of Davidson’s allegation, let’s look at his sources.

Ron Pundak was one of the Oslo agreement negotiators, but he was not present at Camp David. His 2001 article “From Oslo to Taba: What Went Wrong?” appears to be Davidson’s source for the above. Pundak unsurprisingly argues that Oslo was a great idea, but it failed due to “miscalculations and mismanagement” on both sides, especially by former PM Binyamin Netanyahu and Barak. He does not specifically cite a source for the 80% figure, but a map included is an “approximation based on Israeli and Palestinian sources”.

Robert Malley was at Camp David as a special assistant to President Clinton. He is highly controversial today because he favors recognizing Hamas and calls for Israel to negotiate directly with Hamas. His 2001 article “Camp David: The Tragedy of Errors” (with Hussein Agha) appears to be Davidson’s source. In it, Malley explains that Barak’s positions were always presented verbally in terms of what he would agree to if there were a final agreement, because of his [justified] fear that the Palestinians would ‘pocket’ any concrete written proposal and then use it as a starting point for further demands. What Barak was in fact prepared to accept then appeared as American ‘ideas’ from the mouth of President Clinton. Malley argues that therefore there was actually no ‘real’ offer other than some ‘bases for negotiation’ which were in the 90% range. He sees this as justification for the Palestinian claim that this was Barak’s best offer. But this is not the case by Malley’s own account of Barak’s negotiation technique!

Jeff Halper and Uri Avnery, with all due respect (not much) were not in a position to know what was offered at Camp David and are partisans of the Palestinian cause. Halper is presently in Gaza as part of the “Free Gaza” mission.

Now, what about the most interesting source, Ehud Barak himself? Try as I might, I could not find a mention of Barak in the New York Times archive on May 24, 2001 (nor could I find the Yediot reference). However, the following appears in an August 6, 2001 interview with Clyde Haberman of the Times:

When those negotiations collapsed, Israelis and American officials, including President Bill Clinton, put the blame squarely on Mr. Arafat. But newly published accounts [Malley, Agha and Pundak?] offer a different perspective. They say that all the parties at Camp David share responsibility, among them Mr. Barak for supposedly overbearing negotiating tactics.

Stung by the criticism, the former prime minister asked for time to make his case against what he called the ”gossipizing of history.” He has never been one to admit mistakes freely, and he was no different today when he said, ”I can answer almost every gossip item.”

He had offered the Palestinians more than any Israeli leader ever, he said, but his ”peace partner” chose to turn his back.

But there is a highly specific and authoritative source for the details of the offers. Dennis Ross was the chief Middle East negotiator for both Presidents George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton. He was intimately involved in the negotiations from start to finish. Here is what he said about the final Clinton-Barak offer:

In actuality, Clinton offered two different proposals at two different times. In July, he offered a partial proposal on territory and control of Jerusalem. Five months later, at the request of Ehud Barak, the Israeli prime minister, and Arafat, Clinton presented a comprehensive proposal on borders, Jerusalem, Palestinian refugees and security. The December proposals became known as the Clinton ideas or parameters.

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…

Since the talks fell apart, there has emerged a mythology that seeks to defend Arafat’s rejection of the Clinton ideas by suggesting they weren’t real or that Palestinians would have received far less than what had been advertised.

Arafat himself later claimed he was not offered even 90 percent of the West Bank or any of East Jerusalem. But that was myth, not reality.


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