Peace with Realism

Home   Contents Site Map Links Search

Camp David 2000

Reply to Robert Malley

1. "Fictions About the Failure at Camp David"

In this article Malley states that "I was at Camp David, a member of the small American peace team, and I, too, was frustrated almost to the point of despair by the Palestinians' passivity and inability to seize the moment."(1) Malley's purpose is not to exonerate the Palestinians, but only to show that Arafat does not deserve the lion's share of the blame for the summit's failure.

Malley lists three "myths" about Camp David that he feels need to be debunked.

Myth 1: Camp David was an ideal test of Mr. Arafat's intentions.

Here as in other places Malley tries to find reasons to justify Arafat's mistrust of Barak. It is difficult to understand how any of what Malley says justifies refusing a reasonable offer, making no counter-proposal, and failing to negotiate in good faith. Of course both sides mistrusted each other. That is why negotiations were necessary, and why America's role as mediator was also necessary. Negotiations take place between parties who do not necessarily trust each other.

Malley blames Barak for the poor relationship he had with Arafat:

Moreover, the summit occurred at a low point in Mr. Arafat's relationship with Mr. Barak - the man with whom he was supposed to strike a historic deal. A number of Israeli commitments, including a long-postponed Israeli withdrawal from parts of the West Bank and the transfer to Palestinian control of villages abutting Jerusalem, remained unfulfilled, and Mr. Arafat believed that Mr. Barak was simply trying to skirt his obligations.

These lines from Malley's article are important, because Malley keeps repeating these points in his other writings over and over again. Let's examine his contentions.

The history of delays in Israeli troop withdrawals is complex; some of those delays were due to flare-ups of Palestinian terrorism. It is important to put these delays in their historical context.

As part of the "Oslo II" Interim Agreement of 1995 and the Wye Memorandum of 1998, Israel was to make staged redeployments of its forces from Palestinian population centers and rural areas in order to transfer these areas to full Palestinian control. These redeployments were contingent on the Palestinians' fulfilling their parts of the agreement. The Palestinians failed to live up to their commitments, particularly their obligation to revise their national charter so as not to call for Israel's destruction,(2) to put a stop to incitement, and to carry out certain security measures such as the confiscation of illegal weapons.(3) Any criticism of Israel's delays in making these transfers must take into account these ongoing Palestinian violations.

The "long-postponed Israeli withdrawal" to which Malley refers is the so-called "third further redeployment" [FRD] specified by Oslo II and Wye. The history of these redeployments was troublesome, and agreement was especially lacking on this one. Barak had his reasons for postponing it, which included making it easier for him to offer a comprehensive deal first.

Finally, Barak was worried about the third further redeployment, set to take place by June 23 [2000]. Every FRD to date had created a crisis. This one was bound to be the worst because it was the last. Arafat had developed a mythology on the third FRD, saying that the Palestinians should have 91 percent of the territory after it was implemented. The Israeli view was completely different, seeing at most 50 percent of the territory in Palestinian hands after the third FRD. Barak knew there was no way he could satisfy what Arafat wanted. Moreover, he knew that even doing a 10 percent FRD would make it appear that he was giving away more land to the Palestinians and getting nothing in return - thereby costing him the political capital he would need to make far-reaching concessions on borders and Jerusalem. Barak thus convinced himself that the permanent status deal had to take place before the June 23 deadline. In the meantime, to ensure that he did not squander any political capital, he refused to transfer the villages near Jerusalem.(4)

In short, Barak was focused on making the big deal, while Arafat was focused on the interim steps. Ross describes the difference in perception:

We faced two conflicting mind-sets. One wanted to make history, by taking a big leap and ignoring the short-term effects of his failure to fulfill his promises. The other wanted to deal only with the interim issues, fearing what it would take to make history and believing in any case that he was entitled because of the promises made to him. While I might not have agreed with their perspectives, I understood why each leader felt the way he did. For Barak, if the interim issues would be subsumed in the permanent status agreement, why focus on them now and politically undo his capacity to reach such an agreement? For Arafat, why should he have to confront the bigger issues with a leader he did not trust, and without first restoring his own political capital?(5)

Note that here and throughout his writing Ross acknowledges the perceptions of both Barak and Arafat, something Malley consistently fails to do.

The issue of the three Jerusalem villages deserves special attention, since Malley mentions it many times here and in other writings. It is connected with the "third redeployment." Arafat asked Barak to include in this redeployment the three Arab villages of Abu Dis, Eizariya, and Ram, in the area of East Jerusalem. These villages were "Area B," an Oslo II term meaning that the Palestinians had civil control but Israel had overriding authority to maintain security. Arafat wanted them transferred to "Area A," meaning the Palestinians would have complete control.

This was not part of the original plan, and posed a problem for Barak, since at that sensitive stage in the negotiations it would seem he was planning to divide Jerusalem - something the Israeli public was not yet willing to accept, and a hard sell to his coalition. Nevertheless, after a while Barak did agree to push for the inclusion of the three Arab villages in the third redeployment.(6)

Arafat did not make it easy for Barak to fulfill this promise. Just as Barak was working to move the transfer plan through the Knesset, violent Palestinian demonstrations broke out to commemorate "Naqba" (Catastrophe) Day, what Palestinians call the anniversary of Israeli independence. Palestinian security forces fired on Israeli soldiers, and the exchange of fire continued throughout the day. The Palestinians had planned and provoked the violence. These plans were detected in advance, and President Clinton felt the timing was so urgent that he sent a message to Arafat asking him to do what he could to prevent the violence. Arafat did nothing.(7)

The change in the political climate resulting from this violence made transferring the Jerusalem villages impossible.

According to Barak, "even traditional peaceniks" were now pressing for a suspension of talks. The image of armed Palestinians - armed under the terms of Oslo - firing on Israeli soldiers was completely unacceptable to Barak. The belief that the Palestinians would resort to violence whenever they were unhappy fed the view of many that no deal with the Palestinians would hold. Under such circumstances, Barak decided not to deliver the villages that he had succeeded in getting the Knesset to approve.(8)

This is the story of the Jerusalem villages: At Arafat's request Barak agreed to transfer them. Barak did fight hard to get the transfer passed through the Knesset. As the transfer was about to take place, violence instigated by the Palestinians broke out. Arafat did nothing to stop the violence in spite of a request by President Clinton. And in spite of these facts, Malley brings up this issue repeatedly as a reason to blame Barak and excuse Arafat. This hardly makes any sense. Whatever Malley was trying to demonstrate under this first "myth" sounds unconvincing once one knows "the rest of the story."

Myth 2: Israel's offer met most if not all of the Palestinians' legitimate aspirations.

In this section Malley criticizes the offer made to the Palestinians at the Camp David Summit in July and makes no mention of the Clinton Parameters proposed in December, which represent the true final offer that the Palestinians refused. Therefore this entire section is misleading. Even though Malley says this earlier offer "was not the dream offer it was made out to be" (by whom?), he does admit that it "was more far-reaching than anything any Israeli leader had discussed in the past" and "far more than had been thinkable only a few weeks earlier." The proposal at the Camp David Summit was indeed an important step along the way and should be credited as such, but it was not the final step by which the entire process should be judged.

Myth 3: The Palestinians made no concession of their own.

Malley notes that the Palestinian negotiators at Camp David were willing to make certain concessions. This point is not in contention. Dennis Ross has also stated that the Palestinian team was willing to make those very same concessions.(9) What Malley omits is that 1) Arafat refused to back up those concessions, and 2) they still did not amount to the acceptance of an offer that would have granted the Palestinians almost everything they asked for, including a contiguous, viable state with no cantons.

Malley's effort to let Arafat off the hook ultimately fails, since Malley leaves out important data that cast what he has said in a far different light. His judgment of Arafat is a very subjective one:

The facts do not indicate, however, any lack of foresight or vision on the part of Ehud Barak. He had uncommon political courage as well. But the measure of Israel's concessions ought not be how far it has moved from its own starting point; it must be how far it has moved toward a fair solution.

By the time of the Clinton parameters Israel's concessions had moved very far. But how far is far enough? If Malley does not like the Clinton Parameters (and very interestingly he says nothing critical about them here), then what would be a "fair solution"? If even the Clinton Parameters were not good enough, one might conclude that "fair" means the Palestinians getting everything they asked for. But no one gets everything they want in a fair negotiation. And what would 100% for the Palestinians mean? It would mean once again dividing Jerusalem as it was before 1967, with no Jewish control over, or possibly even access to, the holiest site in Judaism, the Western Wall. It would mean giving the Etzion bloc of settlements to the Palestinians - but the towns of the Etzion bloc were inhabited by Jews before 1948, who were massacred by Arab armies at the time of Israel's war for independence.(10) What right do the Palestinians, who insist on their own "right of return" for 1948 refugees, have to claim this area?

Malley does make one very fleeting, indirect reference to the Clinton Parameters of December 2000 in his conclusion:

The Palestinians did not meet their historic responsibilities at the summit either. I suspect they will long regret their failure to respond to President Clinton - at Camp David and later on - with more forthcoming and comprehensive ideas of their own.

Whatever Malley has said thus far about the July Camp David summit is mitigated by this concluding comment in which he admits that the Palestinians failed to accept or even respond with any counter-offer to the Clinton proposals of December 2000. Malley himself states that the Palestinians failed their responsibilities and that their decision was regrettable. Taken all together and in context, Malley's comments do not weaken Dennis Ross's case. They support it.

May 2005


1. Robert Malley, "Fictions About the Failure at Camp David," New York Times, July 8, 2001.

2. "Didn't the PLO Finally Revise Its Charter on Israel, Opening the Way to Peace?," Palestine Facts.

3. "What Was the Wye River Memorandum in 1998?," Palestine Facts.

4. Dennis Ross, The Missing Peace (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux), 627f.

5. Ross, Missing Peace, 628.

6. Ross, Missing Peace, 592ff.

7. Ross, Missing Peace, 617f.

8. Ross, Missing Peace, 625.

9. Dennis Ross, Margaret Warner, and Jim Hoagland, "From Oslo to Camp David to Taba: Setting the Record Straight," Washington Institute for Near East Policy, August 8, 2001.

10. Mitchell G. Bard, "The Battle For Gush Etzion," Jewish Virtual Library: Myths & Facts Online.

Previous Next

Return to Camp David 2000

Return to Palestinian Disinformation Campaign

Israeli-Palestinian Conflict:
Peace with Realism