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Camp David 2000

Reply to Clayton Swisher

Clayton Swisher's rather silly book The Truth About Camp David(1) does not merit much attention, except that it appears to be well documented and has attracted some publicity on pro-Palestinain sites. Swisher's one-sided portrayal of events is so obvious as to deserve clear dismissal; yet Palestinian advocates quote it in response to Ross, and so we treat it briefly here.

Swisher does not even put up a pretense of objectivity. He promotes without question a number of Palestinian fabrications:

Thus Swisher shows no compunctions about bending the truth to put Israel in a bad light. Not surprisingly, he exhibits this tendency also in his discussion of the peace process and Camp David. While Ross discusses both Palestinian and Israeli failures to live up to their commitments, Swisher hardly mentions the former and exaggerates the latter. For example, he places great emphasis on Israel's failure to fulfill its Wye obligations, while giving slight mention to Palestinian violations. In fact, Palestinian violations of Wye and Oslo are extensive and well documented.(2)

Swisher believes he has identified the true villain of the piece, and that is - Dennis Ross! Swisher's animosity toward Ross seems almost personal. He never misses an opportunity to take a swipe at Ross. He speaks of "Ross's shrewd nurturing of connections" (p. 39) and "the raw display of arrogance by Ross" (p. 199). To document Ross's "eye-rolling arrogance" (p. 228) he cites a "State Department political appointee," whose identity and motives are unknown. He captions one photo of Dennis Ross smiling with President Clinton and Madeleine Albright, "Ross, Albright, and Clinton have the last laugh just before announcing the collapse of the Camp David summit," as if to say Ross wanted the talks to fail and that was the reason he was smiling.

Swisher seizes on one particular incident, misrepresenting it and blowing up its importance practically to suggest that Ross himself was responsible for the failure of the talks. Here is what happened.

On the third day of the summit a "draft framework agreement" was prepared. Part of the purpose of the document was to present clearly the points on which both sides differed. Where differences existed, both views would be incorporated in brackets, the Israeli views marked "I" and the Palestinian views marked "P."

One Israeli negotiator who saw the draft before it was formally presented noticed a problem. It contained one statement, not in brackets, saying "the Jerusalem municipal area will host the national capitals of both Israel and the Palestinian state." The negotiator said the existence of two capitals in one "municipal area" implied the division of Jerusalem, something Israel was not yet ready to concede. Ross made a handwritten correction, changing "the Jerusalem municipal area" to "the expanded area of Jerusalem."(3)

Swisher makes much of Ross's action, claiming that Ross "capitulated" to the Israelis and that it was a "unilateral 'correction' Ross made on behalf of the Americans" (p. 268). And he goes even further, speaking of "Ross's handwritten shenanigans" (p. 371) and stating that "Ross's slapdash changes to appease Barak on the most explosive summit topic - Jerusalem - ...spelled the death of the Camp David drafting process" (opposite p. 298). But consider: this draft came at a very early stage - only the third day of the summit - and its purpose was to set forth the different initial Israeli and Palestinian positions on key points. It was not for Dennis Ross or any third party to decide Israel's negotiating position. Only Israel could say what its position was, and if it did not yet want to concede a divided Jerusalem, it had every right to insist the point be put in brackets or that some other adjustment to the language be made. Ross was not "capitulating" or acting "unilaterally." He was correcting someone else's mistake. Whose?

Ross reports that Robert Malley and Jon Schwartz changed the draft language on Jerusalem without notifying him, thus making it necessary for Ross to find a makeshift solution at the last minute. Swisher (p. 268) denies that either Schwartz or Malley would be capable of such a thing. But according to Ross, Malley admitted it:

Rob [Malley] had been the note-taker in the President's private meeting with Arafat, and when he came out of the meeting I confronted him, asking how the last point on Jerusalem got put in the paper. He said he and Jon had added it, but had neglected to tell me they had done so. I was angry, telling him, "No way that should have happened and now we are going to have a problem."

Rob was very contrite.(4)

Is Swisher calling Ross a liar? Malley himself has not denied the incident.

Swisher goes out of his way to find an excuse for every Palestinian excess:

Swisher tries to magnify every Israeli tactical mistake, while not even mentioning the Palestinians' disingenuous method of negotiating by using every Israeli concession as a new baseline, which even Robert Malley concedes. The closest Swisher comes even to recognizing this dishonest technique is to call it "Barak's paranoia" (p. 297). Throughout his book Swisher himself sounds more like a Palestinian negotiator than a reporter.

Swisher's own dishonesty is most evident at the very end of his book, in which he attempts to deliver his coup de grace. He discusses the Palestinian reaction to the Clinton Parameters of December 2000, trying to show that the Palestinians did not in fact reject them.

On the Palestinian side, Arafat showed detailed interest while listing his own reservations in a letter faxed to Clinton on December 28. It is worth reprinting the letter in full, in order to puncture yet another myth of Palestinian rejectionism, this one regarding the Clinton Parameters; namely, that the Israelis accepted them while the Palestinians rejected them.

On the same page (399) Swisher slams Ross for spreading the "fairy tale" of Palestinian rejection. He then reprints a letter from Arafat to Clinton dated December 28, in which Arafat expresses several reservations about the Clinton ideas but does not seem to reject them outright.

But this was not Arafat's last word on the matter. Five days later Arafat met with Clinton at the White House, informed Clinton that his reservations still stood, and presented Clinton with a response that rejected virtually every provision of the Clinton Parameters (see Camp David 2000). Swisher makes no mention of this document, the Official Palestinian Response to the Clinton Parameters,(6) an extremely odd omission considering that he saw fit to reprint in full the much less significant text of Arafat's earlier letter.

Swisher's attempt to show that the Palestinian rejection of the Clinton Parameters was a "fairy tale" flies in the face of logic. Israel had accepted the Parameters. Had the Palestinians done likewise, we would have a deal today. Swisher leaves the impression that the process failed because time ran out on the Barak and Clinton administrations. Yet had the Palestinians truly accepted the Clinton Parameters, there would have been a basis to continue. Instead, at Taba the Palestinian position hardened even more. Ahmed Qurei admitted what Swisher will not, that the Palestinians indeed rejected the Clinton Parameters while Israel accepted them:

"We refused to accept the Clinton initiative as a basis for the negotiations. The Israelis said that the Clinton proposals should be the basis, but we rejected it."(7)

By his manipulation of the sources and omission of the most significant material, Swisher leaves the uninformed reader with an impression that is contrary to the truth. A closer look demonstrates that Swisher has no credibility. All that is left is to speculate on Swisher's possible motives.

Swisher himself enables us to do this. At the beginning of his book he makes some confessions that possibly shed light on the slant that he has taken.

Swisher opens his book with "The catastrophic terror attacks of September 11, 2001" and makes a very controversial and questionable statement: "The primary reason for Arab and Muslim anger against America has been and remains unbridled support for Israel's oppression of the Palestinians" (p. xix). The inappropriate use of the word "oppression" is a subject for another discussion. There is no evidence that the attacks of September 11 had anything to do with Israel. At the time, Osama bin Laden made a point of America's presence in Saudi Arabia. And the attacks themselves were planned at a time of optimism in the Israeli/Palestinian peace process, when it seemed both sides were inching toward a solution. So Swisher's entire premise is specious.

But what is important is that he believes it. And what happened on September 11 was for Swisher, as for many of us, a source of deep trauma (p. xxi):

I did not begin to revisit my assumptions until the September 11 attacks, when, after long days of work at Ground Zero, I found myself drowning in anguish and alcohol as I and my colleagues asked each other, "Why do they hate us?"

Swisher has already answered that question. They hate us because of Israel. So maybe hating Israel will make us safe. Maybe, if there were no Israel, they wouldn't hate us.

That is hardly likely. With or without Israel, to the Islamic extremists America will always be the preeminent symbol of the Christian West. One may understand Swisher's passion, but that does not make it a viable substitute for the truth.

June 2005


1. Clayton E. Swisher, The Truth About Camp David (New York: Nation Books, 2004).

2. See Israeli Government Press Office, "Brief Assessment of the Palestinian Authority's Record on Compliance with Its Commitments Under the October 23, 1998 Wye River Memorandum," February 2, 1998; Don Feder, "Israel and America March Toward Oblivion at Different Paces," Jewish World Review, January 12, 2000; Aaron Lerner, "Op Ed on Wye,", October 26, 1998; Jane Glezin, "The Wye River Memorandum: Making Economic Prosperity for Palestinians a Reality," International Business Law Review, March 14, 2000; Morton A. Klein, Six Years of Palestinian Arab Violations of the Oslo Accords (New York: Zionist Organization of America, 1999).

3. Dennis Ross, The Missing Peace (New York: Farar, Straus and Giroux, 2004), 660f.; Swisher, The Truth About Camp David, photos opposite 298. In this section Swisher also states falsely that Ross made changes to U.N. Resolution 242.

4. Ross, Missing Peace, 661.

5. David Makovsky, "Death of a Symbol: Yasser Arafat Leaves Behind a Complicated Legacy of Nationalism and Terrorism," Washington Institute for Near East Policy, November 11, 2004.

6. Palestinian Negotiating Team, "Official Palestinian Response to the Clinton Parameters," PLO Negotiations Affairs Department.

7. David Makovsky, "Taba Mythchief," National Interest, Spring 2003, 122.

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