Hope, Experience, the Peace Talks and Bill Clinton

As the Israelis prepare to sit cross the table from the Palestinians for yet another try, one must catch one’s breath and say a prayer.  But before expectations go too high, it is worth a quick look back…to the  final days of the Clinton administration.

In his biography My Life, Bill Clinton has a lot of interesting things to say, but none more so than his account of the last serious Mideast Peace Talks, conducted at Camp David in 2000, with the president himself as mediator.

Here are some highlights.

“[Israeli Prime Minister Ehud] Barak believed that if he could present a comprehensive peace plan to Israeli citizens, they would vote for it as long as Israel’s fundamental interests were achieved: security, the protection of its religious and cultural sites on the Temple Mount, an end to the Palestinian claim to an unlimited right of return to Israel, and a declaration that the conflict was over.”  [p. 911]

“Barak did not want to meet alone with Arafat [without US mediation]; he was afraid that they would fall into the old patterns where Barak did all the giving and Arafat made no response in kind.”  [p. 913]

“On the ninth day, I gave Arafat my best shot again.  Again he said no.  Israel had gone much further than he had, and he wouldn’t even embrace their moves as the basis for future negotiations…Again, Arafat said no.  I shut down the talks.” [p. 915]

“As Abba Eban had said long ago, the Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.” [p. 924]

[Later] ”I brought the Palestinian and Israeli teams into the Cabinet Room and read them my ‘parameters’ for proceeding. These were developed after extensive private talks with the parties separately since Camp David. If they accepted the parameters within four days, we would go forward.  If not, we were through.”  [p. 936]

[Under Clinton’s proposed parameters,] “The Palestinians would give up the absolute right of return; they had always known they would have to, but they never wanted to admit it….It was a hard deal, but if they wanted peace, I thought it was fair to both sides.” [p. 937]

“Barak’s cabinet endorsed the parameters with reservations, but all their reservations were within the parameters, and therefore subject to negotiations anyway.  It was historic; an Israeli government had said that to get peace, there would be a Palestinian state in roughly 97 percent of the West Bank, counting the swap, and all of Gaza, where Israel also had settlements. The ball was in Arafat’s court.”

“Finally Arafat agreed to see Shimon Peres…Nothing came of it. As a backstop, the Israelis tried to produce a letter with as much agreement on the parameters as possible, on the assumption that Barak would lose the election and at least both sides would be bound to a course that could lead to an agreement.  Arafat wouldn’t even do that, because he didn’t want to be seen conceding anything….Arafat never said no; he just couldn’t bring himself to say yes.” [p. 944]

Hope says that a peace agreement is possible.  Experience suggests that the talks will fail, and it will be the fault of the Palestinian leadership.  That’s not me talking; that is the voice of experience, the notorious Neo-Con Right-Winger Bill Clinton.


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