myths about the Israeili-Palestinian conflict - Part I: Barak was generous

Steven Den Beste has a lengthy article which is all about Iraq and whatnot. There isn't much new, but he does have this throwaway line embedded in a sterotypical tangent about Arab culture (and how it only respects strength and other absurd simplifications):

That's one of the reasons why Arafat refused the Barak proposal. It was so generous, so comprehensive that he concluded that Israel was about to collapse. So he refused it and turned on the Intifada and the suicide attacks because he thought he was near to winning.

SDB is referring to the Camp David accords under Clinton in 2000. This is an amalgamation of two gross and specious mischaracterizations of the Palestinian-Israeili struggle.

These myths are:
1. the Barak proposal was generous.
2. Arafat initiated the current intifada.

Both are absolutely false, but are promoted as truth through repetition that they have entered conventional wisdom. Certainly, if you firmly believe these myths to be true, and consider my following attempt to debunk them as the partisan anti-Semitic ravings of a moral-equivalency terrorist sympathizer, then you may as well skip the rest of this post. I haven't the ability to convince ideolouges of anything, nor do I wish to debate with them. But if you are open to the idea that both sides in the struggle have consistently used propaganda (ahem Jenin, anyone?) to achieve their political aims, then in my humble opinion you will find these facts interesting, relevant, and thought-provoking.

Myth 1 - Barak was generous

The so-called "generous offer" to the Palestinians at Camp David was not a true proposal for a Palestinian state, but for a set of separated, non-contiguous, bantustan-style reservations. The borders and airspace would have been controlled by the IDF, as well as travel between the separate pieces of the so-called "state". This was not a proposal for a sovereign nation, but rather a long-term plan for total surrender of the Palestinians' aspirations for a truly sovereign homeland.

Look at the maps yourself.

The Israeili group Gush Shalom has also prepared a short Flash animation that graphically illustrates these maps and boundaries of the proposals at Camp David. Also worth reading is this analysis by the New York Times (reg. req.) by Robert Malley, who was Clinton's special assistant for Arab-Israeli affairs, and participated in the Camp David negotiations. Malley wrote:

"Many have come to believe that the Palestinians' rejection of the Camp David ideas exposed an underlying rejection of Israel's right to exist. But consider the facts: The Palestinians were arguing for the creation of a Palestinian state based on the June 4, 1967, borders, living alongside Israel. They accepted the notion of Israeli annexation of West Bank territory to accommodate settlement blocs. They accepted the principle of Israeli sovereignty over the Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem -- neighborhoods that were not part of Israel before the Six Day War in 1967. And, while they insisted on recognition of the refugees' right of return, they agreed that it should be implemented in a manner that protected Israel's demographic and security interests by limiting the number of returnees. No other Arab party that has negotiated with Israel -- not Anwar el-Sadat's Egypt, not King Hussein's Jordan, let alone Hafez al-Assad's Syria -- ever came close to even considering such compromises."

Robert Wright likewise wrote an extremely cogent and fair analysis in Slate that came to much the same conclusions, and points out that the Barak deal at Camp David was NOT the final deal offerred! In fact, there was a deal made afterwards at Taba, that was much more balanced:

The Israelis, for their part, had sweetened the pot considerably by the time they got to Taba�most notably in accepting Palestinian sovereignty over Haram al-Sharif. They also made the land offers more generous. But they didn't really offer "97 percent of the West Bank," as has been asserted not just in such right-wing outlets as National Review and the Fox News channel, but in Newsweek, the Chicago Tribune, and elsewhere. The Israelis offered 94 percent of the West Bank�a 6-percent annexing�and then offered to compensate the Palestinians with land from Israel proper equaling 3 percent of the West Bank. That is, they offered a total land mass as large as 97 percent of the West Bank.

Taba was a big step forward. A 2-to-1 land swap sure beats a 9-to-1 swap. But it still left Arafat having to answer the obvious question: Um, why not 1-to-1? If Israel really accepts the principle that pre-1967 borders are a valid goal except where rendered impractical by demographic "facts on the ground," then shouldn't it offer fair recompense for the land being withheld�especially since it created those facts on the ground, in some cases cynically? Israel's Taba position also left in place some details�no Palestinian military, for example�that made the term "statehood" a bit misleading.

More important, by the time of Taba, the whole political environment had changed. In September, Barak had allowed Ariel Sharon to make his famous visit to Haram al-Sharif, which many observers consider the spark that ignited the current intifada. Given the only deepening mistrust between Arafat and Israel, America was, more than ever, a vital guarantor of any deal. Yet President Clinton was by then a lame duck, and comments from President-elect Bush had made clear his limited enthusiasm for Middle East peace brokering.

The Taba negotiations are still considered fair by the Palestinian side and form the real basis for any future negotiations towards the two-state solution (which for other reasons, I also oppose).

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