Although the laboriously negotiated and long-delayed Middle East "road map" received a diplomatic boost by the recent intervention of George W. Bush, the plan is replete with the same structural flaws that doomed the Oslo Accords. It’s as if the players in this drama were cursed to a Nietzschean hell of eternal recurrence. As in 1991, the United States has just won a crushing victory in the Persian Gulf and promised vigorous action to solve the Israel-Palestine conflict. As in 1991, the United States, to satisfy its Israeli partner, has vetoed the recognized Palestinian leadership. And just as with the Oslo Accords in 1993–when Israel bypassed the Palestinian negotiators it had approved earlier and engaged its old bête noire, Yasir Arafat, because the recognized negotiators stubbornly insisted on bothersome details like compliance with the Geneva Conventions and guaranteed removal of illegal settlements–the Palestinians and Israel have agreed to a process that promises little peace. As with Oslo, it purposefully avoids all the fundamental issues, like settlements, Jerusalem, borders, refugees, international law and human rights.
If the architects of the new plan have been able to present their scheme as a road map rather than a cul-de-sac, they have been aided by the determined refusal of the mainstream US media to speak honestly about what Oslo involved and about what actually happened at the Camp David summit of July 2000, and why it collapsed. Even casual observers can recite the common wisdom–didn’t the courageous Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Barak, make astounding concessions at Camp David, offering the Palestinians almost everything they had long demanded? Didn’t he go further than any prime minister before him? Didn’t the churlish and deceitful Arafat reject all offers while making no substantive proposals in return, and then launch an intifada, hoping to win through terror what he couldn’t gain at the negotiating table? Doesn’t this prove that Israel really has no peace partner? This was the refrain in almost every US newspaper and on every TV network, repeated ad nauseam as the bodies piled up and the hatred grew. This magazine, along with a few other outlets and commentators, said otherwise, but the big boys weren’t listening.
It was only many months after the intifada began–and long after Oslo was dead, if not yet buried–that a hint of reality began to creep into the mainstream. Deborah Sontag’s long July 2001 New York Times article, cautiously venturing that perhaps it wasn’t all the Palestinians’ fault, and especially the article that August by Robert Malley and Hussein Agha in The New York Review of Books, began to puncture the myth. Malley’s status as an adviser to the Clinton Administration at Camp David made his rebuttal all the more convincing. But after September 11, fearmongering and the facile equation of Palestinian terror with that of Al Qaeda–not to mention the declaration of near-permanent crisis and war by the Bush Administration–meant that most US media would resume their obedience to the received wisdom.
Now, with the US publication of Charles Enderlin’s Shattered Dreams, we have the most complete inside account yet of what actually happened at Camp David, as well as detailed accounts of many of the other key negotiations between the 1995 assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and the February 2001 election of Ariel Sharon. Enderlin, a veteran correspondent and Jerusalem bureau chief for France 2 television since 1990, had unprecedented access to most of the top negotiators from the key countries involved. His book, a bestseller when published in France last year, is based on many hours of videotaped interviews with the participants, often taken at the time of the events in question, along with notes of those sessions furnished by the participants. Many of these interviews and negotiating sessions are transcribed verbatim in the book. The reader feels, at times, like a fly on the wall at these talks. Shattered Dreams is thus essential reading for any serious student of the last years of the Oslo era. It’s remarkable that so many different negotiators would be at once so bitterly opposed to one another and yet so willing to trust Enderlin with their version of events and then corroborate the accuracy of his rendering.
Although Shattered Dreams is illuminating on the prime ministership of Shimon Peres, which immediately followed the Rabin assassination, and the obstructionist years of Likud Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the heart of Enderlin’s book is the tenure of Ehud Barak. It was perhaps understandable that doves celebrated Barak’s 1999 victory over Netanyahu, since the latter had truculently declared that he wanted to destroy the Oslo Accords and then did everything he could to renege on agreements committed to by his predecessors. But Barak was no peacenik; indeed, as chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces, and then as a minister in Rabin’s Cabinet, he had objected to the accords (a fact rarely mentioned amid the accolades he received in the US media during his premiership). And the unwieldy governing coalition Barak set up after defeating Netanyahu included not only the left-liberal Meretz Party but three right-wing parties that opposed even the mildest of concessions to the Palestinians. (Barak’s exclusion of the Arab parties from his coalition–even though they were crucial to his victory–was a legacy of Rabin’s assassination: The settler extremists had vilified Rabin, using language so harsh that it incited his murder, not only because he was the architect of Oslo but because his Knesset majority depended on the Arab parties, which they claimed took instructions from Arafat.)
"Building Mistrust" is the appropriate title of Enderlin’s chapter on the beginning of Barak’s term. The new prime minister at first refused to meet with Arafat, preferring to pursue the Syrian track instead, against the counsel of his own advisers. He approved massive increases in settlement construction, and he refused to carry out redeployments of Israeli forces in the occupied territories that Netanyahu had agreed to the preceding year, eventually insisting that any further redeployments should occur at the final-status talks. Moreover, in an attempt to undermine an international legal standard long accepted by all the parties, he even argued that UN Security Council Resolution 242, which emphasizes "the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war," should not apply to the West Bank. And yet Barak clearly staked his political future on a two-state solution that would require significant Israeli withdrawals.
The Camp David summit itself should stand as a model in future international relations classes of incompetent and dishonest diplomacy. Even though all the players knew that the two sides were too far apart and that the chances for success were very low, Barak and President Clinton decided together that there would be a summit; as Enderlin puts it, "the Palestinians, unpleasantly surprised, [were] informed by telephone." Clinton, disgraced by the impeachment scandal, wanted one final shot at glory and thus insisted on a rushed start, without the necessary preparation. And Barak’s government was already hanging by a thread–the three rejectionist parties had all quit his coalition before the summit began, leaving him with a minority and thus incapable of engaging in the high-stakes diplomacy that was necessary to pursue an agreement.
Enderlin’s day-by-day reporting on Camp David confirms the accounts immediately after its conclusion by Tanya Reinhart, Noam Chomsky, Edward Said and other commentators generally ignored by the mainstream. The US and Israeli teams, although sometimes differing on procedures, agreed that the baseline for serious discussion should be formulated around Barak’s "red lines": that a greatly expanded Jerusalem should remain under Israeli sovereignty, that there could be no return to the 1967 borders and that 80 percent of the settlers should remain in large settlement blocs annexed to Israel, with long-term Israeli control of a huge strip of land in the Jordan Valley. In other words, the Palestinians should be allowed at most a bantustan of at least four noncontiguous islands, with no control over their traditional capital or their borders. The best proposal the Israelis offered at Camp David–and this was after days of arduous haggling–would have allowed them to annex outright or continue long-term occupation of roughly 20 percent of the West Bank and all of Jerusalem apart from a few inconsequential Arab neighborhoods on the outskirts. Furthermore, only a token number of refugees would be allowed to return, under the guise of "family reunification," and even then only at Israel’s discretion.
It has been frequently argued, even by commentators sympathetic to the Palestinians, that although the Clinton/Barak offers were inadequate, the Palestinians missed a historic opportunity to put forward a substantive counteroffer. In fact, the Palestinians set forth a clear and defensible position at the start of the talks: The baseline of discussion should begin with longstanding principles of international law, enshrined in UN resolutions and reconfirmed dozens of times over the decades by almost every country in the world. Thus any discussion of borders should be based on the 1967 lines, as specified in UN Resolution 242, with any deviations requiring territorial exchanges. This meant East Jerusalem should go to the Palestinians and West Jerusalem to the Israelis, though the Palestinian side recognized that Israel had legitimate claims to portions of the Old City. As for the refugee question, the Palestinians insisted that UN Resolution 194 should be the baseline of discussion; this 1948 resolution, supported by the United States and reconfirmed by it more than forty times (until, notably, the Oslo Accords), specifies that "refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return."
The remarkable thing, in retrospect, is how flexible the Palestinians were in compromising these legitimate baseline positions. They were willing to concede Israeli retention of sizable settlement blocs in the territories as long as they received an exchange of land in Israel of equal size and value, and they agreed to Israeli sovereignty over large Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem–"the largest Jewish Jerusalem in the city’s history," as Malley, the US negotiator, and Agha put it in The New York Review of Books.
And far from insisting on flooding Israel with millions of refugees, as the Israeli government and influential US journalists like Thomas Friedman repeated endlessly after the intifada broke out, Arafat made it clear both before and during the Camp David discussions that while he insisted on the principle of the right of return, the implementation was negotiable. As Arafat told Clinton before the summit, "We have to find a happy medium between the Israelis’ demographic worries and our own concerns."
A common misconception about Camp David–one fostered by Barak, by US editorialists and even by many Israeli peaceniks after the intifada began–is that disagreement on the refugee issue was the central cause of failure. In fact, Enderlin’s account clearly demonstrates that while the sides didn’t come close to agreement on refugees and many other issues, it was the question of Jerusalem, in particular the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount, that was the most contentious. Neither the Palestinians nor the Israelis were willing to budge on the question of sovereignty over these thirty-five acres inside Jerusalem’s Old City, deemed holy to both peoples.
Nothing captures the US/Israeli rejectionism better than Clinton’s response to Arafat’s claim at one point during the negotiations that "international legitimacy means Israeli retreat to the border of June 4, 1967"–a position that was for years official US policy and is still the policy of every other country in the world except Israel and, on occasion, such powerhouses as Micronesia and Nauru. Clinton exploded:
Clinton then made it clear to Arafat that if he didn’t accept Barak’s offer, "Washington’s doors will be closed to you." In a way, Clinton’s outrage was understandable–but only in the context of the extraordinary concessions Arafat had granted in the Oslo Accords years earlier. The text of those agreements, especially Oslo II of 1995, explicitly gave control over land, natural resources and borders to Israel and even stipulated Israeli veto power over Palestinian legislation. Although, in time-honored colonial fashion, Oslo farmed out to the Palestinians responsibility for suppressing resistance to the occupation (not incidentally, encouraging human rights abuses, most egregiously in the notorious State Security Courts championed by Al Gore), it enshrined "external security" as well as "overall security of Israelis" in the territories to Israel. Meron Benvenisti, one of the foremost Israeli experts on the West Bank and former deputy mayor of Jerusalem, referred to Palestinian self-rule under Oslo as "merely a euphemism for Bantustanization" and continued occupation, "albeit by remote control."
Even though he acknowledges the difficulties posed by settlement expansion during the Rabin years, Enderlin largely adheres to the conventional version of the early Oslo period, a fable at once nostalgic and misleading. He suggests that until Rabin’s assassination, "apart from the climate of violence maintained by the Israeli right, everything was going relatively well." Rabin "had wanted to usher in an era of adaptation to peace, a period of economic development and peaceful relations." It was the fanatical settlers, the Likudniks and Rabin’s assassin who destroyed his beautiful dream of a lasting Middle East peace.
This flies in the face of some fundamental facts. Oslo was a disaster for the Palestinians, one directly related to policies ordered by Rabin, chief among them the closing of Israel as a source of work for Palestinians, which began in earnest in the spring of 1993–long before any suicide bombings–and never really let up. These arrangements led to deep economic depression, with massive unemployment in the territories and a sharp decline in living standards, even as the mirage of peace led to an opening up of trade between Israel and the rest of the world and a booming Israeli economy. At the same time, Rabin continued the large-scale land expropriations and settlement expansion. As Enderlin acknowledges, the settlement population increased by 50 percent in the Rabin and Peres years (it almost doubled from the beginning of Oslo to 2000, a rate of increase that casts doubt, to say the least, on Israel’s willingness to cede control of the territories).
The key point here is that none of these depredations were explicitly forbidden under the Oslo agreements–Arafat’s PLO essentially abandoned longstanding international law and agreed that key pillars of the occupation were merely "disputed," to be resolved by peaceful negotiation between the parties (a "negotiation" the Palestinians were all but guaranteed to lose, given their overwhelming weakness relative to Israel and the United States). After conceding these crucial points in the Oslo agreements, Arafat and his team were faced with the moment of truth at Camp David: Now that Clinton and Barak were demanding that the concessions be made permanent, Arafat could no longer hide behind the "constructive ambiguity" of Oslo. It was time to either agree to final surrender–and thus face the wrath of his own people, who had been promised all along that the concessions made at Oslo were only temporary–or attempt to reassert the validity of international law at the final-status talks. No wonder Clinton was outraged–not unreasonably, he assumed that the Palestinians had capitulated, and that only the details of surrender remained to be worked out. Arafat, however, is a survivor, and he wasn’t about to sign his own death warrant.
Enderlin shows how, after the failure of Camp David, Clinton and Barak further poisoned the atmosphere, with Clinton breaking his explicit promise to Arafat that if the talks failed he wouldn’t blame the Palestinians. Barak, meanwhile, began a well-organized, carefully coordinated global effort to demonize Arafat, distorting what the Israelis had offered at the summit. The Palestinian leadership, in keeping with its long tradition of abysmal public relations, did very little to contest these slanders. These postsummit PR steps had a powerful effect on world opinion.
On the morning of September 28, 2000, Ariel Sharon made the first, and most important, appearance of his approaching campaign against Barak. Surrounded by about 1,000 police and soldiers, he paid a visit to the Temple Mount. This provocation led to rioting and a second, far more deadly, intifada. Enderlin debunks several persistent myths about this latest uprising: Far from being a rebellion launched by Arafat to wrest more concessions from the Israelis, the uprising was, in large measure, a spontaneous explosion of rage and frustration at the years of continuing occupation and settlement expansion, and a protest against the PA leadership as well as Israel. As Enderlin observes, the uprising was at first overwhelmingly nonviolent; only after the stone-throwing was met with wildly disproportionate lethal force did the Palestinian terror bombings start (the major Israeli daily Ma’ariv would later point out that the Israeli army fired over 1 million cartridges in the first three weeks of the intifada, with Palestinian casualties ten times greater than those of the Israelis).
Despite the public vitriol and the mounting casualties, the two sides continued to talk, finally agreeing to one last session, at Taba in January 2001. Enderlin gives a fine account of the Taba discussions, which will stand as the baseline for any serious future talks about a two-state solution. It was only there that Israel began to make realistic proposals, but by then it was too late: Barak had already resigned and carefully distanced himself from the Taba talks, and the polls showed that Sharon–who publicly announced that anything agreed to at Taba would be null and void if he was elected–had a near-insurmountable lead.
Although Barak was no dove, his record cannot compare with Sharon’s history of brutality, which is examined in Politicide, a timely and well-argued monograph by the Israeli sociologist Baruch Kimmerling. As a young commando officer in the early 1950s, Sharon headed the infamous Unit 101, which carried out numerous massacres, often in response to killings by Palestinian guerrillas. The most infamous of these was the 1953 border raid at Qibya, a Jordanian village in which sixty-nine civilians were killed in an attack that aroused worldwide condemnation. As IDF commander of the southern front in the early 1970s, Sharon ruthlessly repressed Palestinian resistance in Gaza, expelling thousands and assassinating more than 100. As Menachem Begin’s Defense Minister, he planned and carried out the 1982 invasion of Lebanon, in which approximately 17,000 Lebanese were killed, most notoriously the Palestinian refugees at Sabra and Shatila, which provoked massive protests in Israel against the Begin government, eventually leading to a commission of inquiry that would find Sharon both "indirectly" and "personally" responsible. His political career appeared to be over, but Sharon rebounded, serving in Cabinets later in that decade and for Netanyahu in the 1990s.
Contrary to the expectations of many longtime Sharon watchers, the "Bulldozer," as he is often called, has so far in his premiership shrewdly outmaneuvered his enemies at every turn, co-opting or isolating domestic opponents as the occasion demands, sounding alternately harsh and conciliatory. And whenever the Palestinians have observed or been on the verge of declaring a cease-fire, Sharon has promptly ordered an assassination to stamp out the specter of peace, most recently in the attempted killing of Hamas political leader Abdel Aziz al-Rantisi, which was followed by a Hamas suicide attack.
The road map may represent the last gasp of the two-state solution. Even as Sharon cynically announces that he’s willing to make "painful concessions" for peace, he urges settlers to keep building, all the while seizing more Palestinian land and demolishing more houses and farmland. As George W. Bush prepared his first trip to the region to jump-start the road map, there was much excited talk about Sharon’s declaration that the occupation (even his use of that word, a no-no in Likud circles, kicked up a mini-storm) had to end, that Israel could no longer continue to rule over 3.5 million Palestinians. This was most likely a tactical feint by the old warrior to curry favor with the Bush Administration, to sound moderate while conceding nothing concrete. Yet Sharon for once spoke truthfully about the essence of the conflict: Israel’s continued insistence on ruling over millions of Palestinians can only lead to disaster–economic, political and moral.
If Israel continues much longer in this direction, the unavoidable reality will be one country from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean, with roughly equal numbers of Palestinians and Jews. Against this backdrop, the once-taboo idea of a single, binational state–with constitutional guarantees not only of equal rights for individuals but also of collective rights for Jews and Arabs in terms of religion, language and culture–has won a growing, albeit still small, following among farsighted thinkers on the Palestinian and Israeli left. A sober defense of this option was made more than three decades ago by Noam Chomsky, in essays republished in Middle East Illusions, a collection that also includes more recent articles by the MIT linguist. In the earlier essays, Chomsky praised the venerable cultural Zionist tradition of Judah Magnes, Martin Buber and other great leaders of the Zionist movement, who warned that a Jewish state that oppressed the native population would destroy whatever was of moral value in the Zionist ideal. Chomsky’s support for binationalism elicited hysterical denunciation, particularly from Israel’s "defenders" among American liberals. Today, his perspective seems unusually prescient.
Another alternative, once the two-state option recedes from the horizon, is the secular democratic state model–a polity roughly along the lines of the American constitutional order. It’s hard for most Americans to conceive of living in any other system, but such an alternative would spell the end of political Zionism and is thus considered unacceptable to the overwhelming majority of Israelis.
And then, of course, there are the nightmare options: hard-core apartheid, with the inevitable long, grim night of repression and rebellion; or massive ethnic cleansing (the current euphemism in Israel is "transfer"), on a scale that would dwarf the recent events in Bosnia and Kosovo. With Sharon still in power, the nightmare scenarios seem ever more likely, given the support for expulsion, or some brutal variant, by powerful sectors in both the US and Israeli political leaderships. As Kimmerling points out, that would lead to the destruction not only of Palestinian society but of the moral foundation of Israel, and would thus constitute a double politicide. This is what is now at stake in the Israel-Palestine conflict.