The Failure of Camp David July 2000

The Failure of Camp David July 2000
Table of Contents
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Domestic Constraints
- Leaders being Led
Different Frames of Reference
- Inevitable Misunderstanding
Trying to Bridge the Gap
- Change of Perception and Discourse
Redefinition of the Conflict
– The Tension between Pragmatism and History
The Failure of Camp David
- The Return of Historical and Religious Argument
The Failure of the Camp David Summit July 2000, Calev Bender
Between July 11th and 24th, under the auspices of President Clinton,
Prime minister Barak and chairman Arafat met at the presidential
retreat of Camp David in an effort to reach a deal on a permanent
status agreement, putting an end to decades of conflict and achieving
a just and lasting peace. On the 25th July 2000, President of the
United States, Bill Clinton released a statement announcing the
failure of the Summit. "After 14 days of intensive negotiations between
Israelis and Palestinians, I have concluded with regret that they will not
able to reach an agreement at this time1" The Summit had been seen
as signalling the onset of a historic reconciliation between Israelis and
Palestinians ending a one hundred year conflict. Israeli Prime minister
Ehud Barak had confidently predicted that his ‘far reaching
compromises’ would lead to a peace deal that would signal the end of
the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In the light of the summit’s conclusion
without agreement and the subsequent violence that has plagued the
region since September 2000, the negotiations at Camp David have
taken on added significance, with the general feeling that the two
sides came agonisingly close to brokering a deal and that any future
agreement will be close in nature to what was discussed at Camp
David. It is therefore of paramount importance that it is fully
understood and the reasons for its failure clearly articulated.
Based on the concept of ‘nothing is agreed until everything is agreed’
there is no official transcript of the talks at Camp David nor any
official documentation of the negotiation positions of the two parties.
However, based on press reports and interviews with the negotiators
themselves it has been possible to recreate much of what went on
behind closed doors and to uncover the Israeli offers and Palestinian
1 Bill Clinton in Statement announcing the failure of the summit, 25/7/00 released
on on 11/11/01
The Failure of the Camp David Summit July 2000, Calev Bender
replies2. The core issues dealt with were universally believed to be the
most difficult, both strategically and emotionally. They included
discussions on the future of territory for a Palestinian state,
settlements, Jerusalem and Palestinian Refugees.
With regard to territory for a future Palestinian state, Israel reportedly
offered the Palestinians control over 90% of the West Bank, all of the
Gaza strip and a land swap equivalent to 1% of the West Bank inside
Israel’s existing 1948 borders that would most probably have been
taken from land near the Gaza Strip. Included in the 10% of territory
to be annexed by Israel would be three settlement blocs in the
northern, central and southern parts of the West Bank in which 80%
of settlers already live and parts of the Jordan Valley in which Israel
wanted three early warning stations.
With regards to Jerusalem, heavy disagreement took place over Israeli
'creative' plans for the Temple Mount, (also called Har Habayit and
Haram al-Sharif by Israelis and Palestinians respectively.) Israel
suggested granting the Palestinians sovereignty over everything aboveground on the Temple Mount site and retaining Israeli sovereignty
over everything located below-ground such as the Western Wall and
the area believed by Jews to be the site of their second temple.
Another Israeli idea included according ‘trustee’ status over the
Temple Mount to Palestinians, and leaving the ‘residual’ sovereignty
over the Mount in Israeli hands. With regard to sovereignty over the
Old city, sovereignty would go to Israel who would be responsible for
the municipal administration of the Jewish and Armenian quarters.
The Muslim and Christian quarters would come under the municipal
Negotiation positions taken from, Uri Horowitz, Camp David 2 and President
view on 30/11/01, The Camp David Papers, Akram
Hanieh, Journal of Palestine Studies (JPS), vol. XXX no. 2 (Winter 2000) pp 75-97,
Mahmoud Abbas (aka Abu Mazen) interview Al-Ayyam (Palestinian Authority)
on both taken on 11/11/01
The Failure of the Camp David Summit July 2000, Calev Bender
administration of the Palestinians and would be governed by a
Palestinian presidium. Housing quarters outside the Old City walls
such as Sheikh Jarrah, Sawana, Silwan and Abu Tor, would come
under Israeli sovereignty and Palestinian municipal administration
while Palestinian neighbourhoods more remote from the Old City
would come under Palestinian sovereignty. Jewish neighbourhoods
would remain under Israeli sovereignty.
The Israeli position on refugees was that it remains a humanitarian
issue, and whilst willing to express its regret at the fate of the
refugees, Israel refused to recognise its moral and legal responsibility
for the refugee issue as demanded by the Palestinians and denied the
Palestinian 'Right of Return' to Israel, insisting instead that any return
be to the soon to be established Palestinian state. It did offer however,
reunification program over a period of ten years.
These positions were deemed by the Palestinians to be unacceptable.
Basing their claims on the Palestinian understanding of UN Security
Council Resolution 242 (UN 242) negotiators demanded a complete
withdrawal by Israel from (all) the territories captured during the June
war of 1967. However, Palestinian negotiators were prepared to agree
in principle to some settlements remaining under Israeli sovereignty
as long as these areas annexed by Israel did not exceed 2% of the
'territories' of the June 4th 1967 borders and land swaps from Israel
'proper' were symmetrical in quality and size. The idea of Israel
retaining settlement blocs were refused (contrary to reports at the time
that suggested the opposite). The negotiators' position on the future of
Jerusalem was that the whole of East Jerusalem (including the Old
City) is occupied land and must come under Palestinian sovereignty.
Whereas the Palestinians were prepared to 'take into consideration'
Israeli interests in East Jerusalem, and allow Israeli control over the
Jewish quarter and the Western Wall, overall Palestinian sovereignty
The Failure of the Camp David Summit July 2000, Calev Bender
could not be compromised. On the refugee issue, Palestinians claimed
that Israel bears moral and legal responsibility for the Refugee
problem and, based on the Palestinian reading on UN General
Assembly Resolution 1943, Israel should guarantee the right of return
to anyone desiring it, compensating all those who do not wish to
return for their property, assets and suffering experienced. They also
wanted compensation to be paid to host countries where refugees
have been settled to offset the financial burden imposed upon them
over the last half century. It is clear then that, even after two weeks of
intense negotiations, Israeli and Palestinian positions remained far
apart on many issues.
Traditional Explanations for the Summit’s Failure
The post mortems into the death of the Summit have been numerous,
with experts suggesting a range of reasons for its unsuccessful end.
The initial account of the failure, held by many in the Western world
and Israel including a large part of the Israeli 'peace camp' was that
the Israeli 'generous' compromise was matched only by Palestinian
intransigence and coins the old Abba Eban adage that ‘the
Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.’ It
argues that the Palestinians did not negotiate in good faith to
conclude an agreement at Camp David and that Arafat was never
ready — mentally, personally, or historically, at Camp David or
afterwards — to conclude a deal4. It claims that he is a leader of a
national movement and not a statesman,5 unprepared to give up
3"Resolves that the 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
and for the loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international
law or in equity, should be made good by the governments or authorities
responsible" on 15/3/02
4 From Oslo to Camp David to Taba - Setting the record Straight, Interview with
Dennis Ross. With Margaret
and Jim Hoagland 8/8/2001
5 Gilead Sher, Special Policy Forum, The Brink of Peace? An inside look from Camp
David to Taba April 16, 2001, address to The Washington Institute's Policy Forum.
The Failure of the Camp David Summit July 2000, Calev Bender
Palestinian mythology6, a liar who can not be trusted7, no longer a
peace partner for Israel and a burden to the entire peace process8. It
considers Barak's political courage to have been
matched only by
Arafat's political passivity and lays the blame for the failure of the
Summit squarely with the Palestinian delegation. It concludes that
notwithstanding mistakes by all sides, the major structural obstacle
remains with the Palestinian leader9.
Recently, several commentators have challenged this view10 pointing
implementation process by all the parties involved, resulting in
mutual and deeply entrenched suspicion which made agreement
harder to achieve. They discuss the press leak regarding the secret
alternative-track Stockholm talks that weakened Barak's coalition as
potential compromises were revealed, and the past history of
implementation (or non implementation) of Oslo agreements as well as
political circumstances in Israel and the 'territories' and the lack of a
personal relationship between Barak and Arafat as all compromising
the ability of the leaders to negotiate. They talk about Barak's
14/02/02, Ha'aretz (Israel) columnist Yoel Marcus 17/11/200 op ed. "The king of
missed opportunities." on 6/3/02
Interview with Shlomo ben Ami, Maariv (Israel) 6/4/2001 from on 11/11/01
7 Interview with A.B Yehoshua ' I hate Arafat from the bottom of my heart', Kul alArab (Israeli Arab newspaper) 28/12/01 on
1/3/01: Haim Shur, An Intellectual Leader and Veteran of Israel's Left and Peace
Camp 'Arafat is an Arch-Liar, an Arch-Murderer' Maariv 22/6/200 on 6/3/02
8 Gay Behor op. ed 'Arafat is no longer a partner', Yediot Acharonot (Israel)
18/10/2000 on 1/3/02
9 Shlomo ben Ami's Camp David Diaries and both on 11/11/01, Camp David - An Exchange,
Dennis Ross, Gidi Grinstein reply to Hussein Agha and Robert Malley New York
Review of Books (NYR) 20/9/2001 pp 90-91
10 Robert Malley and Hussein Agha, Camp David, A Tragedy of Errors,
9/8/2001 pp 59-65, Deborah Sontag, And yet so Far; A Special Report, Quest for
Middle East Peace How and Why it Failed, JPS vol. XXX no. 1 (Aut. 2001) pp 78-85,
Ron Pundak, From Oslo to Taba What went Wrong? Survival Vol. 43 no.3 (Autumn
2001) on on 15/3/02, Camp David
Two, Assumptions and Consequences, Shibley Telhami, Current History January
2001 on
on 15/3/02, all point to errors by both sides in differing degrees.
The Failure of the Camp David Summit July 2000, Calev Bender
mistakes in the run up to the Summit, emphasising how the
continued building of settlements, the initial preference of the Syrian
track over negotiating with the Palestinians and his refusal to hand
over three villages near Jerusalem to the Palestinian authority (PA) as
promised, accumulated mistrust and the loss of faith with the
They also mention Palestinian mistakes citing lack of internal
cohesion and apprehension towards a future leadership struggle as
stifling any potentially compromising positions. Arafat's reticence to
win over the Israeli public and stem anti-Israel incitement is also seen
as a factor in the breakdown of peace talks. American mistakes such
as forcing Arafat into the Summit against his wishes and the
administration's insensitivity to Palestinian fears are also revealed.
These commentators explain how American actions
Arafat's highly influential number two, Ahmad Queri (aka Abu Ala)
who, after a disagreement with Clinton on the fourth day over
territory, took only a peripheral part in the negotiations.
All these analysts agree with the fact that it was tactical failures (in
varying degrees) that contributed to the summit's failure. Pundak,
writes that "the opportunity for peace did in fact exist, but it was
squandered due to.....faulty implementation and management of the
entire process11" while Malley and Agha conclude that the Summit
ended without agreement "less by design than by mistake more
preparation and confidence building measures, the argument follows,
a historic reconciliation between these two peoples could well have
been achieved. This view is echoed by the United Nations envoy, Terje
Pundak, From Oslo to Taba, p1
Malley and Agha, Tragedy of Errors, p65
The Failure of the Camp David Summit July 2000, Calev Bender
Larsen who, discussing the failure of the summit, stated, "It was a
failure of psychology and of process, not so much of substance"13
But the ongoing crisis among Israelis and Palestinians is neither
mismanagement. This dissertation will argue that explaining the
failure of the Summit by referring solely to one sides' negotiating
stance or tactical and strategic mistakes before the Summit is only a
superficial reading of events. The true reasons for the failure go to the
heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and reflect how these two
nations understand their conflicting history, identity and national
The dissertation will concentrate on reasons why proposals were
perceived to be fair or unfair and examine how conceptions of justice
are influenced by understanding of history and identity. It will explain
reasons for the Summit's failure by investigating the basis for a peace
agreement, the domestic moods of the two parties and the viability of
settling a historic conflict through political means and the creation of
shared narratives. The Focauldian understanding of language as
inherently power saturated, is aptly demonstrated in the IsraeliPalestinian conflict, with choice of words often reflecting political bias.
Whether the territories incorporating the West Bank and Gaza Strip
'liberated' 'administered' or 'Palestinian' or whether the 1948 war was
one of 'independence' or 'catastrophe' greatly depends on the political
opinion of those involved. This dissertation will therefore attempt to
evade this trap, using what are considered to be 'neutral terms' and
employing these 'power laden' phrases only to demonstrate how
specific constituencies view certain issues14.
Sontag, How and Why it Failed p81
When referring to the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the term 'territories' will
hereafter be used. Wars will be referred to by the year they took place and the
The Failure of the Camp David Summit July 2000, Calev Bender
This dissertation will initially study the domestic constituencies of the
two sides, examining the room for political manoeuvre both leaders
had and demonstrating how public opinion is highly influenced by
conflicting historical frames of reference. It will evaluate how much
room for negotiated compromise the two peoples actually allowed their
leaders and indicate the difficulty in concluding a peace agreement
It will further discuss how frames of reference can be bridged,
examining whether this is indeed possible in the Israeli-Palestinian
case. It will debate how conflict resolution can take place between
nations with such sharply divided conceptions of each other and the
past suggesting two different ways. The first, that interpersonal
relations between people can help change perceptions and national
discourse and aid abilities to compromise, and the second that
historical claims should be made subservient to the practical, present
day reality.
It will conclude by discussing the appropriateness of using either of
these to solve the Israeli-Palestinian dispute and offer advice on how
future negotiations may be more successful.
English terms for places and events will be utilised as opposed to Hebrew and
Palestinian translations.
The Failure of the Camp David Summit July 2000, Calev Bender
Chapter 1
Domestic Constraints; Leaders being Led
Israeli Domestic Constraints
That Ehud Barak declared on the eve of the Camp David Summit that
he was prepared to make 'painful compromises' is not doubted.
However, even if the Israeli prime minister wanted to astonish the
world by abandoning long held positions to achieve peace, it is by no
means certain that he was in a position to do so domestically. Barak
left for the negotiations with his coalition government on the brink of
collapse with the latest public opinion polls showing him trailing ex
prime minister and right winger Benjamin Netanyahu. As Ariel Sharon
termed the background to Barak’s departure, "Ehud Barak is going to
Camp David without the Knesset or the country behind him15" It was
not an understatement. The week that Barak left for the summit on
10th July, his coalition was barely surviving. He lost two no confidence
motions in the Israeli Knesset (Parliament) in which members of his
coalition, Natan Sharansky (head of a Russian Immigration Party,
Yisrael Ba'Aliyah) Shas (the ultra orthodox Sephardi party) and the
National Religious Party all voted against him. The government was
further weakened by two other parties, (the secular Shinui party and
the Ultra Orthodox, United Torah Judaism,) arguing bitterly about the
Tal Commission stipulating military service for ultra orthodox youths.
Barak's perceived autocratic style of leadership further added to his
problems by creating tension among the coalition partners who felt
left out of the decision-making process;
However, even though domestic disagreement in Israel has always
been rife and although there had been much disagreement over how
an 'end of conflict' situation would look, there was a basic consensus
within the political establishment of Israel concerning the ultimate
Ariel Sharon, in In Search of a Fix - editorial Middle East International (MEI)
14/7/2000 p117
The Failure of the Camp David Summit July 2000, Calev Bender
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objective of a negotiated peace with the Palestinians and was reflected
in the Beilin-Eitan16 Plan. The Plan stipulated that the West bank and
Gaza would be partitioned between a Palestinian state and territories
that would be annexed to Israel. No percentages of land were
expressly stipulated but territories where 80-90% of settlers lived
would be annexed to Israel. Municipal Jerusalem would remain under
Israeli sovereignty whilst Palestinians would establish a capital of
their own in the suburb of Abu Dis which would be renamed Al Quds
(Jerusalem) The near universal support for Jerusalem remaining
united and undivided under Israeli sovereignty is reflected in the
Government of Israel's basic Guidelines set out after the elections. It
states with regard to Jerusalem that,
"Jerusalem 3.1 - Greater
Jerusalem, the eternal capital of Israel will remain united and complete
under the sovereignty of Israel17 The mantra of a united Jerusalem had
been one of the few issues that enjoyed bipartisan support in the
Knesset. Barak himself testified to the national mood on talks with the
Palestinians when, in his election victory address, he spelt out his
plan for negotiations "we will move for separation with the Palestinians
in accordance with four red lines. Jerusalem united our sovereignty for
eternity. Period. There will be no return under any circumstances to the
1967 borders. There will be no foreign army West of the river Jordan.
And the majority of the settlers in Judea and Samaria will be in
settlement blocs under our sovereignty18" Elsewhere in an interview
with Hannah Kim, Barak described how he foresaw an end of conflict
situation with the Palestinians looking like, arguing that he saw no
contradiction between making peace with the Palestinians and
keeping many settlements, even some like Bet El near big Palestinian
population centres.
Yossi Beilin is considered to be one of the most dovish members of the Labour
Party. Michael Eitan is considered right of centre politically and is a member of the
Likud Party. This information was taken from 'Reflections on Recent Elections JPS
Vol. XXIX no. 1 (Aut 1999) pp 58-65
6/7/99, on 15/3/02
18 Barak's election victory address 17/5/99 in JPS Vol. XXIX no. 1 (Aut 99) pp 58-65
The Failure of the Camp David Summit July 2000, Calev Bender
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Barak thus set out for the summit with a mandate by the Israeli
people based on his four red lines. As explained, he saw no reason
why peace should not be agreed upon on this basis. Anything further,
however, and a coalition crisis was likely and Barak’s mandate under
Palestinian Domestic Constraints
Arafat also approached the summit with certain, non negotiable red
lines. The PLO Central Council that met in Gaza between the 2nd-3rd
July laid down a consensus on the outline of what Palestinians
considered a just solution to the conflict. It's communiqué included a
Right of Return for refugees and adequate compensation paid to them
and their host countries, a complete Israeli withdrawal to June 1967
borders, the removal of Israeli settlements and the establishment of a
Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital. As Hasan Asfur, a
negotiator in the back-channel Stockholm talks said regarding the
Palestinian position, "Our position remains unchanged and is still
based on UN 242 and 338 as well as [General Assembly] Resolution
194 pertaining to the Refugees flight."19
Arafat's room to manoeuvre was very small. Caught between the
Americans urging compromise on one side and Hamas and other
Palestinian rejectionist groups on the other, Arafat went to Camp
David trying to weave his way between conflicting and often
compromise on the communiqué’s 'national constants' by any
Palestinian leader was clarified by Marwan Barghouti, who in a
television debate claimed that "no Palestinian, leader or otherwise, will
dare to or be able to compromise Palestinian national constants.....And
Khalid Amayreh, Nothing of Substance MEI 26/6/00 p110
The Failure of the Camp David Summit July 2000, Calev Bender
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if he does, Fatah and the Palestinian people will stand against him"20
Before going to Camp David Arafat had been warned about the
Palestinian street and its propensity for violence if an agreement did
not satisfy minimum Palestinian demands and this is certain to have
been a factor in his negotiating stance. This was most clearly reflected
in Arafat's reported 'intransigence' over Jerusalem in which, in a
heated exchange with Clinton, Arafat told the President that if he
compromised on Jerusalem he would be assassinated. Arafat seems to
have been successful in this weaving between two poles. An editorial
by Khader Khader in the Palestine Report of June 28 expressed
approval of Arafat’s position, saying it “has the support of the
Palestinian masses and all PLO factions and Islamic movements in
Palestine, as well as the support and solidarity of Arab countries and
political parties.”
But Khader’s words carried the implicit warning
that Arafat dare not weaken his demands. A group of prominent
Palestinians, including Edward Said, Ibrahim Abu Lughod, Haidar
Abdel Shafi and Khalil Barhoum, recently launched a worldwide
campaign on behalf of the Palestinian refugees’ right to return home.
In a document signed by a thousand academics and political figures
and sent to concerned international organisations and heads of state,
the signers declare their “absolute refusal to recognise any treaty,
permanent or interim, which compromises Palestinian rights,” and
reject any solution to the refugee problem other than repatriation. The
statement is as much a warning to Palestinian negotiators as to Israel
that the refugees’ right to repatriation may not be bargained away. It
also acutely expresses the potential for any future agreement based on
popular demand.
Opinion after the Summit
Public opinion polls taken after the Summit reinforce the view that
Palestinians and Israelis were unwilling to compromise over what they
Marwan Barghouti, debate on Quatar's Al Jazeera channel 26/05/00, taken from
Nothing of Substance, Khalid Amayreh MEI 2/6/00 p102
The Failure of the Camp David Summit July 2000, Calev Bender
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see as their 'red lines' and reflect a huge difference between the
expectations of the two sides. Not only was Barak's purported good
will to reach an agreement not enough to forge a deal with the
Palestinians, but even his final negotiating positions at Camp David
were seen by the majority of Israelis as too much of a compromise and
these, coupled with the subsequent outbreak of violence, ultimately
led to a resounding election defeat the following year. Similarly,
although Arafat came back from the Summit with his reputation
intact, what was seen in the West as 'uncompromising positions' were
viewed by many in the Palestinian street as bowing to external
pressure. In a poll conducted by The Palestinian Centre for Policy and
Survey Research (PSR)
in Ramallah and the Harry S. Truman
Institute for the Advancement of Peace at Hebrew University,22 the gap
between the two sides was clearly reflected. 68% of Palestinians
respondents replied that they considered Arafat's overall position at
the Summit to be 'just right' whilst 56.5% judged Barak's proposals to
be 'too much of a compromise'.
With regards to most specific issues, both sides felt their leaders had
compromised too much. The suggestion that Arafat may have been
willing to accept a deal on Jerusalem that would have allowed Israel to
annex the settlements of Maaleh Adumim, Givat Ze'ev and Gush
Etzion, as well as the Wailing Wall and the Jewish Quarter in return
for full Palestinian sovereignty over the Arab neighbourhoods and holy
places in east Jerusalem, was considered to be 'too much of a
compromise' by a majority of 57% of Palestinians. On the other side,
PSR Survey Research Unit, Public Opinion Poll 1 Camp David Summit, Chances
for reconciliation and Lasting Peace, Violence and Confrontations, Hierarchies of
Priorities and Domestic Policies, 27-29th July 2000. The total sample size of the poll
is 1259 from Palestinians 18 years and older, of which 786 in the West Bank and
473 in the Gaza strip. The margin of error is 3% and the non response rate is 3%. To
be found on on 7/01/02
22 PSR Survey Reset Unit, Press Release, Israelis and Palestinians support the Peace
Process and Reconciliation but are Less Willing to Pay the Price than their Leaders.
Israeli poll supervised by Dr. Yaacov Shamir. A representative sample of 525 Israeli
were interviewed by telephone (sampling error 4.5%) between 27-31st July 2000 to
be found on on 7/01/02
The Failure of the Camp David Summit July 2000, Calev Bender
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55.7%. of Israelis viewed this offer by Barak as 'too much of a
compromise.' And even though all of Barak's proposals on security,
borders, settlements and a future Palestinian state were viewed by a
majority of the Israeli populace to be 'too much of a compromise', a
majority of 55% of Palestinians found the reported acceptance of a
Israel annexing settlement blocs in return for the Palestinians
receiving territory from Israel and a corridor linking the West Bank
and Gaza as 'too much of a compromise'. A state recognised by Israel
on 96% of the West Bank and a territorial exchange involving the
remaining 4% (where most settlers live) with unspecified Israeli
territory was also seen as 'too much of a compromise by 51% of
Palestinian respondents.
The issue over which the two sides were furthest apart was that of
refugees and their 'right' to return to their old homes inside Israel's
pre 1967 borders. Arafat's demand that Israel recognise Resolution
194, accept the political, legal and moral responsibility for the refugee
crisis and show willingness to absorb hundreds of thousands of
refugees is supported by 68% of Palestinians. By contrast, Barak's
outright refusal to admit moral responsibility for the refugee issue,
but his willingness to recognise the 'suffering of the refugees' and
widespread disapproval by 64.2% of Israelis polled.
Conflicting Constituencies
From the figures and the public statements, the clear conclusion to be
drawn is that not only were the domestic constituencies of both
parties far apart in their expectations for a final deal, but even their
purported 'red lines' were irreconcilable with one another and a basic
understanding of the other's minimum demands was lacking. In this
sense, both leaders were restricted by their constituencies and this
affected their ability to negotiate and compromise. It is also true that
The Failure of the Camp David Summit July 2000, Calev Bender
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both leaders seemed to have a basic misunderstanding of what would
be the minimum that the other would be prepared to accept.
But why were the two constituencies so far apart with regards to their
views on the peace process and reconciliation? Had the Oslo
agreements not set in motion a process of reconciliation by which
these constituencies would begin to accept the identity of the 'other'
and his basic rights? Did the process not help influence a change in
perception over how a final status arrangement might look?
The answer to the differing expectations that tied the hands of the
leaders lies not only in an inherent fault in the Oslo agreements, but
also in the two very different frames of reference in which Israel and
the Palestinians view themselves, their history, the (Palestinian/
occupied/disputed) 'territories' and each other. These differences are
reflected in the way, that Israelis and Palestinians view the issues
being negotiated.
The Failure of the Camp David Summit July 2000, Calev Bender
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Chapter 2
Different Frames of Reference – Inevitable Misunderstanding
Israeli frame of reference - Settlements and Territory
Israelis see the territories that the Palestinians claim as their own not
as occupied but as disputed and this is reflected in domestic dispute
as to their future. Disagreement in Israel over ceding these territories
is based on one of two factors, the religious emotional attachment to
the land and the security argument. In religious terms, the heartland
of the West Bank is seen by many in Israel as the cradle of the Jewish
people and integral parts of the land that God promised His elect. The
near-messianic fever that swept the nation in the aftermath of what
many regarded as a miraculous deliverance from Israel's enemies
during the 6 day war of 1967 must be seen in the context of these new
'liberated' territories that reflected so much of Jewish biblical history.
Hebron, Nablus and Bet El (near Ramallah) were considered to be the
Jewish people's historic possession and ancestral home, thus making
them innately holy.
This feeling of ‘belonging’ to the land is most aptly explained by
Anthony Smith's and his description of ethnoscope. Smith explains
how a terrain is invested with ethnic significance and how a
development of historical memories associated with landscapes and
territory help shape the 'personality' and 'character' of a nation23.
Smith's theory was demonstrated most tangibly by the movement
Gush Emunim (bloc of the faithful), who believed that settling Eretz
Yisrael Shelema (the entire land of Israel) was a divine commandment
and would hasten the onset of the messiah. Based on the teachings of
their late spiritual leader, Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook,
and his son Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda, many in the national religious camp
in Israel believe this land to be the Muslim equivalent of a waqf, a
Anthony D Smith, Sacred Territories and National conflict - Israel Affairs vol. 5
no.4 (Summer 1999) pp 13-31
The Failure of the Camp David Summit July 2000, Calev Bender
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religious endowment, impossible to compromise on. The land is part of
the character of the Jewish people, and has influenced their spiritual
make up. Ceding parts of the land is thus comparable to removing
parts of the anecdotal national body.
Settlements were also constructed in these territories on security
grounds. Believing the 1949 armistice borders to be, as Abba Eban
commented, 'Auschwitz borders' consecutive Israeli governments
encouraged settlement in areas with sparse Palestinian population,
most notably in the Jordan Valley. This was the idea behind the Allon
Plan that called for the annexation of the Jordan Valley to Israel and
the creation of a Palestinian-Jordanian confederation in the remaining
land. Settlements were also seen as a fulfilment of the Zionist dream
of 'settling the land.' Both these ideas (security and Zionist ideology)
are reflected in the Guidelines of the Government of Israel (Likkud) on
settlement in 1996 which states that “Settlement in the Negev, the
Galilee, the Golan heights, the Jordan valley and in Judea, Samaria
and Gaza is of national importance to Israel's defence and an
expression of a Zionist fulfilment"24 Settlement in the territories is
compared to that of 'Israel proper' and this reflects how a large part of
the Israeli population view the settlements.
All in all, there is a clear emotional attachment in Israel towards the
settlement enterprise and as of yet, no settlements have been
evacuated25 From this perspective, Barak's offer of dismantling over
70 settlements really was revolutionary from an Israeli perspective
and caused domestic criticism.
16/6/96 on 15/3/02
25 After Jewish settler Baruch Goldstein killed 30 Muslim worshippers in the Cave of
the Patriarchs in Hebron, then prime minister Yitzchak Rabin had the opportunity
to evacuate the settlement of Hebron, home to about 400 Jewish settlers. The fact
that he felt incapable, even then after such an atrocity, of dismantling the
settlement is testimony to the political clout the settler movement has in Israeli
The Failure of the Camp David Summit July 2000, Calev Bender
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On Jerusalem, the
"application of Israeli law, jurisdiction and
administration26" in East Jerusalem on June 27th 1967 was met with
widespread support on both sides of the political spectrum. Jews have
always considered Jerusalem to hold a unique status in their
consciousness. For two thousand years, religious Jews had thrice
daily ask God to "return in mercy to Your city, Jerusalem"27 and the
city was felt to symbolise both the spiritual and national revival of the
Jewish people. The city symbolises both spiritual and national revival
and Israel’s national anthem, Hatikva, naturally refers to a two
thousand year yearning for Zion and Jerusalem.
The capture of Jerusalem was especially sweet as Jews could now visit
and pray at the Western Wall which was believed to be the last wall of
the Jewish temple, destroyed in 70 AD by the Romans. It was viewed
in contrast to the years under Jordanian control when Jews had been
prevented from praying at the Wall. This feeling of emotion at the
'liberation' of Jerusalem was felt by both religious and secular alike.
The mantra of 'united Jerusalem forever under Israeli sovereignty' has
been the slogan of both left and right wing in Israel for decades. As a
testimony to its importance across the political spectrum, Shimon
Peres lost the 1996 elections partly on the fear by many that 'Peres
will divide Jerusalem28' Barak’s proposal to offer the Palestinians
sovereignty on some parts of Jerusalem and to discuss solutions
regarding the Old City therefore broke many taboos in Israel and put
his political life on the line.
Jerusalem Law 27/6/67 in The Coming Battle for Jerusalem, Marshall J Berger in
Middle East Quarterly December 1994
on 22/2/02
27 Artscroll Prayer book p101
28 The slogan 'Peres will divide Jerusalem’ was coined by the right wing in the lead
up to the elections. It is certain to have made people think twice about voting for
this well known dovish Labour candidate.
The Failure of the Camp David Summit July 2000, Calev Bender
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The Israeli offer on refugees can be understood through the prism of
how Israel historically sees the episode. The official Israeli version of
events before and during the 1948 war in the early years of the state,
shunned any responsibility for the plight of the Palestinian refugees
who fled the country, before and during the fighting. It claimed that
encouraged by external Arab leadership and a self assured message of
imminent return after a devastating victory over the nascent Jewish
state, many Palestinians left their homes.
This explanation is clearly reflected in David Ben-Gurion’s speech in
the Knesset on October 11th 1961. He emphasises the ‘domino effect’
theory, claiming that once the first wave of refugees left between
October 1947 and March 1948, others followed suit. “The Arab’s exit
from Palestine…began immediately after the UN resolution, from the
areas earmarked for the Jewish state. And we have explicit documents
testifying that they left Palestine following instructions from Arab
leaders, with the Mufti at their head, under the assumption that the
invasion of the Arab armies at the expiration of the Mandate will
destroy the Jewish state and push all the Jews into the sea, dead or
In recent years, Israel's official view on the refugee problem evolved
slightly, thanks in part to the onset of 'new historians' such as Morris,
Pappe and Shlaim30. However, the Zionist discourse remains that
responsibility for the plight of the refugees should not be borne by
Israel alone and was an inescapable result of a war initiated by the
Arab armies. Israel sees the refugee issue as an inevitable result of a
Quoted from ‘Were they Expelled?, The History, Historiography and Relevance of
the Palestinian Refugee Problem, Ilan Pappe in The Palestinian Exodus 1948-98, ed.
Ghada Karmi and Eugene Cotran, Ithaca Press Reading 1999 p39
Benny Morris, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem (Cambridge University
Press) Avi Shlaim, Collusion across the Jordan, King Abdullah, the Zionist Movement
and the Partition of Palestine. (Columbia University Press 1988) and Ilan Pappe, The
making of the Arab Israeli conflict 1947-51, (Taurus 1994) have all questioned Israeli
actions during the 1948 war.
The Failure of the Camp David Summit July 2000, Calev Bender
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war between two peoples in which only one could emerge victorious
and renounces any individual responsibility for the humanitarian
tragedy.; "The Palestinian refugee problem was born as the land was
bisected by sword, not by design Jewish or Arab. It was largely the
inevitable by-product of Arab and Jewish fears and the protracted bitter
Ehud Barak, following in the footsteps of all governments before him,
has consistently claimed that no refugees will return to Israel and that
Israel have neither the legal nor the moral responsibility for their
welfare. After a report in Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz suggested that he
had changed his stance to allow a quota of refugees to return, Barak
categorically denied it, stating "We have made it clear many
times...that we don't think Israel can accept either moral or legal
responsibility for the refugees"32 It should also be noted that any influx
of Palestinian refugees would threaten Israel’s demographic character,
something no Israeli government is prepared to concdede.
Palestinian Frame of reference- Territory and Settlements
As can be imagined, Palestinians see these issues in a very different
light. As far as Palestinians are concerned, the acceptance of Israel's
right to exist within the 1948 borders and confining their own state to
areas controlled by Israel since 1967 was the last and final
compromise. Accepting UN 242 and the Oslo accords thus conceding
78% of
mandatory Palestine was, to Arafat and the Palestinian
population as a whole, a painful historic concession33.
Shlomo ben-Ami opening remarks, official presentation by the Israeli delegation to
the Refugees working group at the Middle East peace talks, Ottawa, Canada
11/11/92 mimeo p3 in Palestinian Refugees and Peace, JPS Vol. XXIV no.1 (Aut 94)
Elia Zureik p6
32 Ha'aretz (Israel) 17th July. quoted in Ghada Karmi, Giving up the Right of Return,
in MEI 28/7/00 p118
33 Al Ayyam (PA) 8/7/2000 from Palestinian Strategies at the Camp David Summit on 1/3/02
The Failure of the Camp David Summit July 2000, Calev Bender
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As acting Israeli foreign minister Shlomo ben Ami explained in an
interview, this perspective that 'Oslo' was the ultimate and final
Palestinian compromise was not clearly understood by the Israelis.
"The Palestinian perspective was that Oslo was a compromise, and it
was the last compromise. We were not aware of this. We all thought
that somewhere down the road there would be another compromise
which would then be final."34 He further explains that, "When Arafat
signed the Oslo Agreement in 1993, his understanding was that he
would eventually get all of his demands. This is the whole story in a
This perspective on the finality of Oslo explains Arafat's difficulty in
moving towards Israeli positions at the summit. As Abu Mazen said
regarding an Israeli claim that they were looking for 'some flexibility'
from the Palestinian side at Camp David, "I don't understand what he
means by 'some flexibility!' When we gave up the [1947] Partition
Resolution and accepted Resolution 242 - wasn't that flexibility?! We
conceded half the lands that had been given to us in the Partition
Plan....We took a historic step when we accepted resolution 242."36 In
an interview with Palestinian daily Al-Ayyam, Abu Mazen reiterated
the lack of room for manoeuvre that the Palestinians had. "We made
clear to the American and Israeli sides several times that the
Palestinian side is unable to make concessions on anything, since this
is the minimum that it is willing to accept....and will not agree to
anything to anything short of Resolution 242 and 338, together with
Resolution 194."
The concept of flexibility is inherently subjective and is very much
dependent on what is deemed to be acceptable. The Palestinian
Leslie Susser, Israel's Ben-Ami, Disillusion from Day One, Jerusalem Report
16/7/2001 p14
Interview with Shlomo ben Ami in Maariv (Israel) 6/4/2001 from on 11/11/01
36 Abu Mazen in Kul Al-Arab 8/8/2000 from www.memri/org/sd/SP12200.html on
The Failure of the Camp David Summit July 2000, Calev Bender
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position was based on the belief that the whole of mandatory Palestine
was theirs. Accepting 22% of their former homeland was viewed as
flexibility enough.
Even this position was seen by many to be unacceptable, accepting
the reality of the Israeli state only on pragmatic grounds. Hamas, a
rejectionist Palestinian group highly popular in the territories, even
considers acceptance of Israel's right to exist to be a compromise. This
view is reflected clearly in an interview with one of the founding
members of Hamas, Ismail Abu Shanab who describes Hams' position
towards Israel and a future peace. "We know that the land which is
now occupied by Israel and on which they are building their state is our
land. They took it by force and they forced us to leave. No one among
the Palestinians, not the Sheikh [Yassin] nor Arafat doubts that this
land belongs to us....if the Israelis withdraw from the territories they've
occupied since 1967, he [the sheikh] will agree to a cease-fire.........if we
had the force to get our land back, I think he would do it. After all, if you
were in our position, you would do it as well....."37
Acceptance of an Israeli presence on Palestinian land is thus
something that has to be tolerated not celebrated for a large segment
of Palestinians. With regards to Israeli settlements built on land
occupied after 1967, Palestinians consider them to be illegal under
international law, and demand their dismantlement under a final
settlement. The report that at Camp David Arafat was prepared to
accept that some settlements in the Ariel, Jerusalem and Etzion areas
could remain under Israeli sovereignty was thus a major compromise.
The Palestinian position on Jerusalem is not only based on it being
part of East Jerusalem (and therefore occupied) but also on its
37 Interview with Ismail Abu Shanab, Middle East Policy (MEP) Vol. VI no. 1 (June
1998) pp 117-18
The Failure of the Camp David Summit July 2000, Calev Bender
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holiness to Islam. Jerusalem is known as al-Quds al-Sharif, the Noble
Holy Place and even during the British mandate period, it was
administrative centre of Palestine. Under Ottoman rule, Jerusalem
was significant as the centre of education and press and other aspects
of Palestinian intellectual and cultural life. With regards to the Old
City, the section of the wall that Jews consider to be holy (the Western
Wall) is considered by Muslims to be the site that Mohammed tethered
his winged steed al-Buraq on the journey “from the Masjid al-Haram
[in Mecca] to the Masjid al-Aqsa[in Jerusalem]” about which the Koran
relates that this spot holds special significance for Muslims.
Ghada Talhami explains the sanctity of Jerusalem for Islam
commenting, that this derives from the Islamic definition of holiness
which prohibits the transfer of religious properties to non believers38.
The physical space associated with divine revelation becomes a
religious trust and the occupants its guardians. Jerusalem is thus
considered to be a waqf
which can not change ownership nor be
negotiated over. It is thus unsurprising given the religious dimensions
of Jerusalem to Muslims that the secretary general of the Arab
League, Dr. 'Ismat Abd Al-Maguid stated that "no Arab leader is
allowed to relinquish Jerusalem39" Arafat similarly told President
Clinton that " the Arab who would give up Jerusalem has not yet been
born"40 That Arafat reportedly ceded the Jewish neighbourhoods in
East Jerusalem, the Jewish quarter and the Western Wall are in this
respect, "very significant concessions"41 according to Khalil Shikaki,
director of the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research in
Ghada Hashem Talhami, The Modern History of Jerusalem; Academic Myths and
Propaganda MEP (Feb 2000) pp113-29
from on 11/11/01
40 Al Quds 20/7/2000 ibid.
41 Isabel Kershner, The PA's Abu Ala, 'I warned of Catastrophe' Jerusalem Report
16/7/2001 p15
The Failure of the Camp David Summit July 2000, Calev Bender
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responsibility for the refugee crisis is based on the Palestinian
understanding of history, most specifically, the events of 1947 and
1948. These years, encompassing partition and what the Israelis call
the ‘War of Independence’ signalling national revival after the traumas
of the Holocaust, are simultaneously viewed by the Palestinians as the
focus for national mourning and termed al Nakba, ‘the catastrophe.’ It
describes a process by which by hundreds of thousands of
Palestinians became refugees42. By the end of the conflict in 1949,
more than four hundred cities, towns, and villages in Galilee, the
coastal region, the area between Jaffa and Jerusalem and the south of
the country had been depopulated and settled by Israelis43.
The Palestinian narrative of events in 1948 understands the mass
Palestinian exodus as evidence of state funded ethnic cleansing. Nur
Masalha argues that integral to Zionist thinking during the mandate
period was the compulsory transfer of the Palestinian population as
the only way to settle the so called ‘Arab problem.
Masalha also
includes all types of other actions that actively encouraged the
Palestinians to leave, citing psychological warfare, the cutting of food
and water supplies as well as undermining the Palestinian’s economic
infrastructure. Similarly Walid Khalidi claims that the Zionists had in
their possession a master plan (Plan Dalet or D) for the expulsion of
the Palestinians45.
Arab estimates vary between 750, 000 and 1,000,000. The Israelis claim 520,000
while the British propose that between 600,000 and 760,000 Palestinians left the
territory that became Israel.
43 This process is chronicled in Benny Morris, The Birth of the Palestinian refugee
problem (Cambridge University Press), Walid Khalidi, ed. All that remains; The
Palestinian Villages Occupied and destroyed by Israel in 1948 (Washington, Institute
for Palestine studies 1992) and Tom Segev 1949: The First Israelis (New York 1986)
44 Nur Masalha Debate on the 1948 Exodus, , The Journal of Palestine studies, Vol.
XXI no. 1 (Aut 1991) pp 90-97
45 Plan Dalet, Master Plan for the Conquest of Palestine, JPS, vol. XVIII no.1 (Aut
1988) pp 4-20
The Failure of the Camp David Summit July 2000, Calev Bender
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Although there have been some signs that Palestinian leaders are
beginning to consider some sort of compromise solutions on the Right
of Return46 the mainstream position is still that reflected by Arafat at
Camp David, namely that Israel should recognise its political, legal
and moral responsibility for the tragedy of the refugees as well as
recognising the innate right of all refugees to return to their homes. As
Nabil Sha'ath leader of negotiations on the refugee issue at Taba
declared, "The Israelis can say whatever they want, but the starting
point of all discussions is the refugees' absolute and sacred Right of
Conflicting Attitudes Towards a Final Deal
The argument that one side compromised more than the other is thus
denied by investigating the very different perspectives that both sides
had during the summit. What is viewed as a compromise by one side
is seen as a inherent right by the other and vice versa. In fact, the
Summit demonstrated most acutely the conflicting Israeli and
Palestinian attitudes towards a final settlement and clarified the
difficulty in bringing the two sides together.
While Israel believed it was negotiating the future of the West Bank
and Gaza Strip, and expected a Palestinian territorial compromise, the
Palestinians believed Oslo was about the future of historic Palestine
and that they had already made their compromise in 1993 by
purporting to recognise Israel within the Green Line. For the Israelis,
the frame of reference was how much more territory to concede
beyond the status quo. For the Palestinians, the frame of reference
The Jerusalem Post on the 19th July reported that Jibril Rajoub had said that all
Palestinians seek was a symbolic gesture of return. Khalid Salam, speaking for the
Palestinian Authority demanded $40bn payment for 'resettlement' not 'return' and
more recently Sari Nusseibeh, holding the PA portfolio for Jerusalem has claimed
that the Palestinians will have to give up their right of return saying it is not
pragmatic and will not happen.
47 Nabil Sha'ath, Al Quds 26/01/2001 from on
The Failure of the Camp David Summit July 2000, Calev Bender
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modifications to accommodate each other's needs. While Israel were
negotiating viewing events through the prism of 1967, Palestinians
looked further back basing many claims to events surrounding Israel’s
birth in1948.
The Oslo accords and UN242, universally viewed as the two
cornerstones of building peace in the region, must take some of the
blame for the failure of the two sides to bridge their perspectives due
to their vagueness surrounding final status issues. The United
Nations resolution, adopted on 22nd November, demands that Israel
withdraw from 'territories occupied in the recent conflict' It also
expresses the 'right of every country in the region to live in peace
within secure and recognised boundaries free from threats or acts of
ambiguity"49 has been interpreted differently ever since. The French
and Arabic translations include the definite article 'the' thus
drastically changing the meaning of the resolution. Arab states have
consistently stated that they understand the resolution as demanding
unconditional complete withdrawal from all territories occupied in the
1967 war. Israel, on the other hand, understands the resolution as
demanding only partial withdrawal.
Ambiguities in Oslo also emphasised the difference between the sides.
The problem with the accords was that emotional issues such as
settlements, Jerusalem and refugees were postponed to the end of the
process thus leaving open potential solutions for a settlement. Oslo’s
‘unambiguous ambiguity50’ never forced either Israelis or Palestinians
to alter their dreams and expectations of a final settlement and did
not prepare them for the inevitable compromises that were to follow.
United Nations Security Council Resolution 242 on 15/3/02
49 Avi Shlaim, An Iron Wall (New York, WW Norton and Co., 2000) p260
Nadav Morag, Unambiguous Ambiguity, The Opacity of the Oslo Peace Process,
Israel Affairs vol. 6 nos. 3+4 (Spring/Summer 2000) pp 200-220
The Failure of the Camp David Summit July 2000, Calev Bender
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Whereas Rabin reassured his constituency that he had not strayed
from the Allon plan, Arafat reported that the basic components of a
final solution would involve, “the dismantlement of occupation and the
complete withdrawal of occupation troops from our land, our holy places
and holy Jerusalem”51 While Israelis believed Jerusalem would remain
the undivided capital of their state, Palestinians expected all their
refugees to return to Israel. As Avi Shlaim commented, “the two sides
could march forward together because they were intent on marching in
different directions”52
reconciliation, this marching in different directions was to prove costly
when the veil of ambiguity was finally lifted at Camp David only for
the parties to find that seven years of marching in different directions
had led to their positions being as far apart as ever.
How can peace be made between two sets of people that not only
disagree about how the future should look, but also have many
discrepancies about events of the past? Can these two frames of
reference be bridged, and if not are there any other solutions to
reconciliation? The next section will examine whether Israelis and
Palestinians can come to any sort of agreement about the past and
whether a creation of a shared narrative will facilitate moving towards
a common future.
in Burhan Dajani, The September 1993 Israeli-PLO documents; A Textual
analysis, JPS Vol. XXIV no. 3 (Spring 1994) p20
52 Avi Shlaim, The Oslo Accord, JPS, vol. XXIV (Spring 1994) p38
The Failure of the Camp David Summit July 2000, Calev Bender
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Chapter 3
Trying to Bridge the Gap - Change of Perception and Discourse
Ideas about the changing of perceptions between enemies is often
based on building inter-personal relations between the two sets of
people and was put into practice both during the Oslo period and
Camp David itself. This view on conflict resolution accords with the
philosophy of Raymond Cohen who emphasises the importance of the
individual interaction between leaders. He argues that the quality of
communication between leaders is critical to the diplomatic process as
it can allow for actual or potential areas of agreement to be identified
or created. Incomprehension, not malice, lies at the root of many
troubled relationships.53 Similar to this is Samuel Huntington’s recent
international stability can be advanced by nations discovering and
developing a greater intercultural understanding and appreciation of
each other54.
The need for a change in perception of the ‘other’ was realised by
Israeli and Palestinian negotiators at Oslo. Uri Savir and his
Palestinian counterpart, Abu Ala both agreed that prevailing Israeli
and Palestinian discourses would have to be changed before any
reconciliation could take place. " 'You know', I warned Abu Ala, 'as far
as most Israelis are concerned, you're just a gang of terrorists' 'And as
far as most Palestinians are concerned', [he replied] 'you are a nation of
cruel oppressors, robbing us of our lands.' "55 They both realised that
for a significant social and cultural change transformation to occur, a
change must initially happen in the discourse through which events
are framed and assigned meaning.
Raymond Cohen, Culture and Conflict in Egyptian-Israeli Relations. A Dialogue of
the Deaf, Bloomington, Indiana University Press, 1990
54 Samuel Huntington, The Clash of Civilisations and the Remaking of World Order,
New York, Simon & Schuster 1996 p320
55 Uri Savir The Process; 1,100 Days That Changed the Middle East; (New York 1998)
The Failure of the Camp David Summit July 2000, Calev Bender
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As Senator George Mitchell concluded in his report on how to get the
peace process back on track, "peace and political stability can not be
achieved in sharply divided societies or where there is historical
conflict, unless there is a genuine willingness to understand the other
point of view and to enter into principled compromise"56 The senator
seems to be suggesting that only by understanding the narrative of
the 'other', by trying to empathise with his suffering can true
reconciliation be reached.
Herbert Kelman also writes about the necessity of mutual recognition
and the nationhood of the other for reconciliation. Arguing that this
creates a favourable environment for negotiation, Kelman discusses
ways in which an acceptance of the identity of the other would not
threaten or undermine the identity of the former57. This concept of
presenting the self image of the ‘other’ is reflected in a joint working
group on the future Israeli-Palestinian relations which argues that
attitude change and stereotype reduction can take place, even in
sharply divided societies58. It concludes that by presenting the self
image and national narrative of the other in a personal descriptive,
analytical and non polemical way, it can help each side to gain an
understanding of the perspective of the other and perhaps discover
that affirmation of one's own identity does not necessarily imply
negating the identity of the other.
During the Oslo years, there were a large variety of efforts to promote
Israeli-Palestinian ‘people to people’ efforts directed towards changing
the negative perception that both peoples had towards the other. This
56 Senator George J. Mitchell, , Sadat Peace Lecture, Negotiating Hard Cases, MEP
Vol. viii no. 3 (Sept 2001) p46
57 Herbert C. Kelman, Acknowledging the Other's Nationhood, How to Create a
momentum for the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, JPS vol. XXII no.1 (Aut. 1992) pp
58 The Future Israeli-Palestinian Relationship ed. Herbert C. Kelman prepared by a
joint working group on Israeli-Palestinian relations at the program of International
Conflict Analysis and Resolution, Weatherland centre for International Affairs,
Harvard University in MEP vol. vii no. 2 (Feb 2000) p106-107
The Failure of the Camp David Summit July 2000, Calev Bender
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emphasis on inter-culture and inter-faith meetings and discussion
was due to the belief that once commonalties between two cultures
were uncovered, a new atmosphere would develop, in which the more
divisive issues could be discussed in a different and more positive
atmosphere. This was also the reason behind the postponement of the
final status issues. After years of confidence building measures, in
which the two sides would enjoy a better personal relationship, these
issues would hopefully be less intractable.
This was also the thinking
behind the American concept at Camp
David emphasising informality. Suits were off limits and the 'relaxed'
atmosphere at the Summit would make negotiators amenable to
compromise. It is certainly true that the personal relationship between
the negotiators was good. As President Clinton, comparing IsraeliPalestinian negotiators favourably with those in Ireland, Bosnia and
Kosovo, commented "Of all the peace groups I have ever worked with,
these people know each other, they know the names of each other's
children, they know how many grandchildren the grandparents have,
understanding for each other. It is truly extraordinary and unique in my
experience in almost eight years of dealing with it"59
However, even with all these good feelings, agreement at Camp David
was ultimately elusive. Why was this? Why did the personal relations
not seep through to the level of negotiations? Why did the two sides
find it impossible to produce joint narratives of events or to affirm the
identity of the other to such an extent as to lead to agreement?
Impossibility of joint narratives
The answer lies with the erroneous basis for negotiating that the Oslo
agreements set in place. Personal relationships are helpful in
59Bill Clinton 25/7/00 on on 11/11/01
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negotiating. However, when it comes to what is considered the core
issues of a nation’s identity, these things are irrelevant.
As Abu
Mazen commented, "..the human relations and the formal relations
were completely different. Meaning our relationship with them was
excellent, but this does not mean that...I will make concessions to him
[Barak]…..the issue is [one of] our homeland.60" Mazen's reply reflects
the limits of friendship. Clinton may be correct in terms of peripheral
issues. When it comes to those of ‘homeland’, they are largely
Central to the analysis of power relations is the concept of discourse.
It was this that the personal relations attempted to change. Based on
Foucault, discourse refers to the practices through which we produce
what we take to be knowledge61. Discourse provides us with the ways
in which we produce the meanings that we ascribe to the people and
things we encounter. It "defines and produces the objects of our
knowledge. It governs the way that a topic can be meaningfully be
talked about and reasoned about. It also influences how ideas are put
into practice and used to regulate the conduct of others. Just as a
discourse 'rules in' certain ways of talking about a topic, defining it as
acceptable and intelligible way to talk, write or conduct oneself, so also,
by definition, it 'rules out'. Limits and restricts other ways of talking"62
Hall's definition of discourse raises the concept of inclusion and
exclusion. Discourse both legitimises and delegitimises. By 'ruling in'
certain things in a country's narrative, it automatically 'rules out'
other things. The Zionist and Palestinian narratives are inevitably
highly different. The question is whether the Zionist discourse and
Palestinian discourse are in any way reconcilable or whether they
mutually rule each other out.
Abu Mazen interview in Al-Ayyam 28/7/2001 on
61 Foucault Michel, Madness and Civilisation, (New York Vintage Books 1973)
62 Stuart Hall, Modernity, an Introduction to Modern Societies, Oxford Blackwell 1996
The Failure of the Camp David Summit July 2000, Calev Bender
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The reason for the success of intercultural groups is based on the
possibility of some discourses and perceptions being reconcilable and
changed over time and it is here that Kelman et al are correct in their
suggestions. Cultural divides can be crossed and discourses can be
refined to some extent.
One such example of discourse change is brought by Yaacov Yadgar,
who claims that a shift in Israeli society and discourse has taken
place over the last 30 years. He discusses the change in emphasis
from more restricted ethno-centric nationalistic narrative of 'us and
them' present in the Israeli mainstream press to more universal,
humanistic principles based on inclusivism and peace in the region63.
Not only can some discourses be changed but also much of Israeli and
Palestinian discourse can live by side. Israelis and Palestinians can
mutually accept the nationhood of the other with all the ramifications
that go with such an acceptance. They can accept the historic link
that the other has with the land without actively impinging on their
own self identity.
However, affirmation of the ‘other’ and his narrative is only possible
when it does not actively deny your own. But whereas national
discourse can survive the acceptance of the other’s identity, it can not
withstand the acceptance of the other’s historical narrative. Whereas
the Israeli affirmation of Palestinian nationhood or Palestinian
acceptance of Jewish rights in Jerusalem do not adversely affect the
ways these two peoples see themselves, the narrative on the
establishment of the Israeli state in 1948 and the Palestinian refugee
problem creates a ‘zero sum game of narratives’.
Yaacov Yadgar, National Narratives in Israel's Mainstream press, Nations and
Nationalism vol. 8 part 1 Jan 2002 pp 55-72
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The Palestinian demand that Israel accept moral responsibility for the
Refugee crisis and that it is a country born in sin is central to the
Palestinians understanding of their history. The idea of return has
been central to the Palestinian national narrative of a struggle against
overwhelming odds, of expulsion and dispersion from their ancestral
home and ultimately of national reconstitution. This feeling of victim
hood is however, inimical to Israel’s understanding of its role in the
world as a national home for the Jewish people reflecting their
legitimate ethnic right to self determination64. No matter how much
mutual understanding of the ‘other’ there is, or how many intercultural groups meet, this fact remains the same. The mutual
discourses of Israelis and Palestinian over 1948 are mutually
exclusive. Affirming one automatically denies the other.
The possibility of Deconstructing Narratives
The intractable nature of mutually exclusive narratives remains the
same even when the post-structuralist critique of nations and their
history is taken into account. Ernst Gellner, in his book Nations and
Nationalism explains that national identity is not necessarily based on
historical fact but is often constructed. He writes that “nations as a
natural God given way of classifying men, as an inherent…political
destiny are a myth; nationalism, which sometimes takes pre-existing
cultures and turns them into nations, sometimes invents them, and
often obliterates pre-existing cultures, that is the reality65” For Gellner,
nations and their created identity are a pure construct. Collective
64 Although in recent years a school of 'new historians' have questioned Israeli
actions during the 1948 war and without doubt this has influence the Israeli psyche
to some extent regarding the past, all these historians stop short of assigning full
moral and legal responsibility for the refugee crisis to Israel. Although in Israeli
schools, the 1948 war is discussed giving emphasis to Palestinian suffering and that
many Israelis see Israel as partly responsible for the humanitarian tragedy, there is
no doubt that Israeli discourse has no room for a narrative that assigns full moral
blame for the crisis on Israel and claims that Israel has was born in sin as the
Palestinians suggest.( Debate on the 1948 Exodus, Nur Masalha, JPS Vol. XXI no.1
(Autumn 1991) pp 90-97 and The Palestinian Exodus 1948-98, ed. Ghada Karmi and
Eugene Cotran, Ithaca Press Reading 1999)
65 Ernest Gellner, Nations and Nationalism (Ithaca; Cornell University Press, 1983)
pp 1-7
The Failure of the Camp David Summit July 2000, Calev Bender
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memory is often only indirectly related to historical fact. History is
replaced by 'felt history', what a nation thinks or feels its history to be.
Similar to Gellner is Benedict Anderson66 who argues that creative
imagination forms a basic part in the production of a nation or
‘imagined community’ or as Eric Hobsbawm more cynically states, "no
serious historian of nations and nationalism can be a committed
political nationalist...Nationalism requires too much belief in what is
patently not so"67 All these thinkers reject the essentialist concept of
nations. They insist instead that nations are culturally constructed
and historically contingent and that rather than discovering or
uncovering the truth of past events, historians create events from the
innumerable information that they find at their disposal. Because
national history is constructed, it may be possible to deconstruct it,
thus changing a nations consciousness. It is this deconstruction that
Amnon Raz-Krakotzkin, combining ideas drawn from the writings of
Edward Said, Foucault and Walter Benjamin advocates, using a
historical approach in which the past is explored not to uncover what
happened, but rather as a basis for changing the consciousness of the
present. The question that concerns him is not what actually
happened but how the images of the past influence the present reality
in which we read that past68. If these images of the past manipulate
reconciliation, perhaps other images can be emphasised instead, thus
slowly altering a nation’s consciousness in ways more susceptible to
However, merely because national discourse or narrative often tells us
more about power than about truth, this does not necessarily mean
Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities Reflections on the Origins and Spread
of Nationalism, (London 1983)
67 Eric Hobsbawm, Nations and Nationalism since 1780; Programme, Myth, Reality
Cambridge 1990 p12
68 Amnon Raz-Krakotzkin 'Exile in the Midst of Sovereignty; A critique of 'Shelilat
HaGalut' in Israel Culture Theory and Criticism 4 (Fall) p49
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that 'felt history' is not important or can be ignored. Collective group
memory often takes primacy over historical facts. Social construction,
even when not based on factual evidence has a specific ontology which
is reified over time. Lack of historical veracity does not make it not
real. National myths serve important function in societies in
explaining the past and making sense of the future.
In contrast to Gellner and other post structuralists who would
perhaps suggest deconstruction of the past as a means to change the
present day national consciousness, what is important to emphasise
is that, regardless of the truth, the conflicting narratives have become
deeply embedded into the national consciousness’ of the two sides,
and go some way to creating their national identities. Myth is
something more subtle than merely an erroneous belief held against
all historical evidence. As Michael Ignatieff, in a recent commentary on
Croats, Serbs and Muslims remarked, “The truth that matters to people
is not factual truth but moral truth; not a narrative that tells what
happened but a narrative that explains why it happened and who is
responsible” Truth according to Ignatieff is related to identity, “what
you believe to be true depends, in some measure, on who you believe
yourself to be”69
Both Palestinians and Israeli have their own national discourse, a
characteristics as an collective body and actively shapes their self
identity. Although some parts of the discourse may change over time
to deal with new realities, the central tenets to a nation’s self
understanding must remain steadfast. The events leading to the
establishment of the State of Israel, the War of Independence/al
Nakba and the plight of the Palestinian refugees are so central to the
discourses of both sides that any appeal to change is likely to lead to
the breakdown of society. Both discourses remain integral to each
Michael Ignatieff, Articles of Faith, Harper’s Magazine (March 1997) p15
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nation's self understanding. Any appeal to deconstruct or change
them will only fall on deaf ears.
Because of the near impossibility in changing perceptions of the other
to the extent of being able to create a shared narrative discourse of the
past, the only other possibility was thought to be the de-emphasising
of history in negotiations. If discourses can not be shared, they must
be ignored. This idea was started at Oslo and continued throughout
the years leading to the Camp David summit..
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Chapter 4
Redefinition of the Conflict
– The Tension between Pragmatism and History
Initial agreement at Oslo could only be made by suspending any
reference to history and by the willingness of both parties to draw 'a
new road map'. According to Uri Savir, one of the main architects of
the accords, central to this new mapping, was separating the events of
the past from the realities of the present and the hopes and promises
of the future70. To move forward, according to Oslo, references to the
past had to be suspended. As Abu Ala said, "let us not compete on
who was right and who was wrong in the past and let us not compete
about who can be more clever in the present. Let us see what we can do
in the future71"
The letters of mutual recognition sent immediately
after Oslo by Rabin and Arafat recognising the nationhood of the other
fulfilled this priority and redefined the dispute in political terms.
Making the history of the conflict and religious claims less significant
vis a vis a practical, realistic solution for the future, allowed
conflict to be framed in a political framework as opposed to a
psychological leave very little room for mutual accommodation,
grinding any reasonable discourse to a halt. They were thus viewed as
a source of cognitive dissonance between the parties and seen as a
matter of unwelcome complexity that largely fell outside the resolution
of the conflict’s scope. The result of this definition was that, through
territorial compromise, an outcome whereby a Palestinian State
representing Palestinian nationalism could live peacefully side by side
with a secure Israel was envisioned.
Uri Savir The Process; 1,100 Days That Changed the Middle East; (New York 1998)
Abu Ala from Amos Elon, 'The Peacemakers' New Yorker 20/12/93 p81
The Failure of the Camp David Summit July 2000, Calev Bender
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Negotiating on political levels and issues was deemed to be easy.
Discussions over territory or water allowances could be bridged, even
if there would inevitably be bitter disagreement over details. Analysis
of history and narratives, (however important) would only lead in
stalemate. This mood is reflected in Faisal Husseini’s comment on the
importance of history in solving the conflict. “to keep the history of our
people, to keep the dreams of our people, to keep all this in our mind, [it]
is so important to tell us who we are. But to reach to a solution, it [the
ideal] will not work. Being pragmatic, you can reach a solution. So one
for the identity is important, and to be pragmatic, to bring all of those
people from the one identity to find a solution for their case, it is
important72.” History is essential in understanding identity, it is
however, unhelpful in finding pragmatic solutions.
The Return of Religious and Historical language.
It was this thinking that had permeated Israeli-Palestinian negotiation
over the Oslo years. During the Camp David summit however, the
framework of the conflict slowly moved from being national/political to
being historical/religious. This was seen most starkly in the
negotiations over Jerusalem and the Palestinian refugees.
In discussions over Jerusalem, Israel presented its demand for
sovereignty over the Temple Mount on the basis of its holiness to
Judaism, as the site of the first and second temples. On this basis, it
raised the demand to establish a small synagogue in part of the AlHaram complex. When this was refused, Israel offered shared
sovereignty, (vertically divided sovereignty in which Palestinians would
control the ground level and the Israelis would control the area below
the surface) on the basis that Israel would retain control over the
Western Wall and have some say in digging excavations under their
A dialogue on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process with Yossi Beilin and Faisal
Husseini by Harry Kreisler 15/9/98 on
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holy site. This was also refused by the Palestinians who referred to all
Israeli ideas for solving the problem as 'ridiculous and offensive'73.
The religious emphasis that the Israelis brought up shocked the
Palestinians, who saw it as a dangerous bombshell liable to move the
region into war. Suddenly, according to Akram Haniyeh74, secular
Israelis were using the language of hard line religious extremists and
the Palestinians rejected this out of hand.
The Palestinians replied with religious arguments of their own. The
Palestinians not only based their claims to sovereignty over the
Temple Mount on its being part of East Jerusalem but also on its
holiness to Islam. Time and again, they repeated that the Muslim holy
places are in the status of an Islamic Waqf. Arafat reminded Clinton
that he represents all Muslims and that he serves as permanent
Furthermore, Akram Haniyeh recounts how Arafat would tell Clinton
"Jerusalem is not only a Palestinian city. It is also an Arab, Islamic and
Christian city. If I am going to make a decision on Jerusalem, I have to
consult with the Sunnis and the Shi'a and all the Arab countries. I have
to consult with many countries starting with Iran and Pakistan, passing
by Indonesia and Bangladesh, and ending with Nigeria. Do you really
believe that any of these countries or groups would agree to give
legitimacy to Israel's pretensions, to give up Jerusalem and the Haram
The Palestinian position remained that the Western Wall is a holy
Islamic site and Waqf. Although free access for Jews was promised by
the Palestinians, full sovereignty had to be Palestinian. As Sheikh
Ikrima Sabri, PA Mufti of Jerusalem and Palestine stated "granting
Abu Mazen, Al-Ayyam (PA) 28/7/2001 on 11/11/01
Akram Haniyeh, The Camp David Papers, JPS vol. XXX no. 2 (winter 2001) p92
Al Ayyam (PA) 10/8/2000 in on 11/11/01
Akram Haniyeh, The Camp David Papers, JPS vol. XXX no. 2 (winter 2001) p86
The Failure of the Camp David Summit July 2000, Calev Bender
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free access to the wall does not mean the Wall will belong to them. The
Wall is ours"77. Ultimately, Palestinian claims over Jerusalem are
reflected in the Islamic Awqaf Council's statement that, "The Al-Aqsa
Mosque belongs to the Muslims alone, according to divine decision and
is part of the Muslim faith. Prayer in it by non Muslims is forbidden by
[religious] law. Any attempt to harm its holiness or the site itself, or to
desecrate it would injure Muslims all over the world"78
This emphasis by Arafat and others on the religious dimension to
Jerusalem and the inclusion of the 'Islam factor' was seen by Shlomo
ben Ami as being one of the main factors precluding agreement. In an
interview about Camp David's failure he stressed the mistake of
placing the Muslim agenda before the national Palestinian agenda
commenting "Your national agenda is held hostage in the hands of the
Muslim agenda and you will pay a heavy price for this"79and arguing
that Arafat’s truth is that of the Islamic Ethos which is absolute and
cannot be negotiated with.
With regards to refugees, the talks were blighted by historical
intonations, focussing on the apportioning of blame to Israel for the
refugee crisis. The centrality of victim-hood in the Palestinian
narrative80 means the Palestinians viewed it as essential that Israeli's
admit moral and legal responsibility for the crisis. As Rashid Khalidi
explains, “As with similarly emotionally fraught and complex issues,
such as those involving Japanese actions in East Asia during the
second World War, or Switzerland and ‘Nazi Gold’, the key requirement
for a solution is not so much compensation….as acceptance of
Kul Al-Arab 16/8/2000 in on 11/11/01
in on 11/11/01
from on 11/11/01
Yossi Klein HaLevi in ‘The Asymmetry of Pity’, The National Interest, no.65 (Fall
2001) pp37-44 argues that it is precisely this view of victimhood that precludes
agreement. Halevi asserts that because the Palestinian side see themselves as
having a monopoly on pity and take no responsibility for having helped cause the
conflict, they see no reason to make concessions to end it.
The Failure of the Camp David Summit July 2000, Calev Bender
- 41 -
responsibility and some form of moral atonement81” However, this goes
against the Oslo idea of defining the conflict in political boundaries,
especially as a flooding of Israel by Palestinian refugees would alter
the demographic reality of Israel thus making the concept of the two
state solution an anathema82.
Believing that history is essentially part of the problem, however,
Palestinians had difficulty preventing the use of historical language in
which to clothe their arguments.
As Hanan Ashrawi, a leading
spokesperson in the Palestinian delegation said regarding Israeli
proposals to repatriate Palestinian refugees in the Palestinian state-tobe, "they [the Israelis] cannot wipe the slate clean and say 'Now we will
deal with history in another way. The political process is a new process
and must not be taken back'"83 The Palestinian position regarding
refugees is that history must be looked in the eye before a solution
can be found. It was because of this issue that negotiations over
refugees remained unsuccessful.
Transformation of the Conflict
The terms of reference in discussions over Jerusalem at Camp David
were clothed in religious language and this transformed the conflict
into a religious-ethnic dispute that can not be solved.
Israel's suggestion of sovereignty over the Temple Mount was not
based on security needs or international legitimacy but simply
because it was important religiously for Jews. Meanwhile, the
Palestinian definition of Jerusalem as a religious Waqf that can not be
Truth, Justice and Reconciliation: Elements of a Solution to the Palestinian
Refugee Issue, Rashid Khalidi, in The Palestinian Exodus 1948-98, ed Ghada Karmi
and Eugene Cotran, (Ithaca Press Reading 1999) p222
82 As Yossi Beilin commented, "anyone seeking to establish two states, one alongside
the other, needs to be very wary of anything approaching bi-nationality in either of
them" from Touching Peace, From the Oslo Accord to a Final Agreement, (Weidenfield
and Nicholson, London 1999)
83 Hanan Ashrawi in 'Were the Palestinians expelled' Efraim Karsh, Commentary
in on 15/3/02
The Failure of the Camp David Summit July 2000, Calev Bender
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compromised on also brought religion into the negotiating discourse.
The onset of religious language moved the discussion from an IsraeliPalestinian conflict, to a Jewish-Muslim religious ethnic problem.
Similarly, discussions on responsibility for the refugee crisis redefined
the framework for negotiations into a historical, or some would say
existential environment, in the sense that it touched on the central
narratives of both parties. It was for these reasons that negotiations
over Jerusalem and refugees precluded agreement.
The shaping of the conflict in a political framework remains the only
workable one. Its thinking is heavily reflected in President Clinton's
bridging proposals made in December 200084 in an attempt to find the
middle ground between the two opposing positions.
On the topic of Jerusalem, Clinton suggested the proposal of 'what is
Arab should be Palestinian, and what is Jewish should be Israeli.'
This would apply to the Old City as well. The parties would work on
maps that would ensure maximum territorial continuity for both
sides. He also proposed Palestinian sovereignty over the Temple
Mount and Israeli sovereignty over the Western Wall in addition to
shared functional sovereignty over the issue of excavation under the
Haram or behind the Wall. On refugees, Clinton suggested that Israel
should be prepared to acknowledge the moral and material suffering
caused to the Palestinian people as a result of the 1948 war, and that
it recognises the need to assist the international community's efforts
in addressing the problem. Clinton suggested that both sides
recognise the Palestinian refugees' right to return to historic Palestine
and that both sides recognise the refugees' right to return to their
homeland but that the agreement would define the implementation of
this general right in a way consistent with the two state solution.
Some refugees would return to Israel (in accordance with its sovereign
84 Uri Horowitz, Camp David 2 and President Clinton’s bridging proposals – the
Palestinian view on 30/11/01
The Failure of the Camp David Summit July 2000, Calev Bender
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decision), some to areas of present day Israel being transferred to
Palestinian sovereignty and others to the West Bank and Gaza. The
rest of the refugees would either be rehabilitated in their host
countries or would be resettled in third countries.
Clinton's bridging proposals reflect the realistic solutions to a conflict
that is plagued by history and religion. His suggestions do not dwell
on blame for the refugee crisis, nor include either side's discourse on
the events of the past. It does not mention religious arguments over
Jerusalem but simply puts self determination into practice on a micro
scale. The proposals are in the spirit of how both Savir and Abu Ala
viewed the Oslo accords and are an attempt to bring the conflict back
into the realms of the political. They represent the only hope for future
The Failure of the Camp David Summit July 2000, Calev Bender
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Conclusion - The Failure of Camp David
It is not doubted that there were "miscalculations, missteps and
mismatched timetables85 by all sides before and during the Camp
David Summit and that these were unhelpful factors in a resolution to
the one hundred year conflict. However, it was not solely or
predominantly due to these 'tragedies of errors' that the Summit
failed. The planning could have been flawless, Palestinian negotiators
could have been in unison and prepared for risks and Barak's
coalition could have been stable yet the Summit may still have failed.
Rather, highly divergent domestic constituencies and public opinion
(which in turn reflected the huge differences between the two very
distinct societies with divergent views of the past) tied the hands of
the leaders to compromise. The differing frames of reference causing
this were found to be unbridgeable, even with the help of intercultural
activities and good relations between the negotiators.
Even though interpersonal relations and changing perceptions were
successful in breaking down some boundaries and changing some
and Palestinian
discourses over events of 1948 are mutually exclusive and emotionally
unchangeable. Furthermore, when in comes to negotiations over
central issues that touch on the heart of the conflict, interpersonal
relations and understanding of the 'other' are largely considered
peripheral in making decisions. Personal relations go some way to
making agreement, but they do not allow someone to compromise over
what is seen as a central part of his identity. Some things are seen as
non negotiable, and in these situations friendship is irrelevant.
85 Robert Malley and Hussein Agha reply to Dennis Ross and Gidi Grinstein, NYR
9/8/ 2001 p91
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In this situation, the one hope for success came in the emphasising of
pragmatic, realistic solutions based on the facts created over the last
50 years as envisaged by Savir, Abu Ala and, after the summit by
Clinton. Unfortunately, the discussions on Jerusalem and refugees
dealt with historical and religious claims as well as demands of
responsibility for past wrongs, and moved the conflict into an
historical framework, which inevitably led to heavy disagreement and
ultimately to Camp David's failure.
Whether inescapable or not, it was the reappearance of history and
religion back into the Israeli-Palestinian equation that put the death
knolls into the Camp David summit. The suggestion of Shibley
Telhami that "the priority must be preserving the nationalist framework
of the conflict and separating the religious status from the issue of
political sovereignty86" as opposed to emphasising historical or
existential issues is essential. It has proved to be the basis for the
Oslo accords and kept the peace process on track for years (however
Undoubtedly history and religion do play a very important part in how
both Israelis and Palestinians define themselves and that it would be
very difficult to conduct negotiations without these claims. Religious
narrative and sentiments are grounded in historical consciousness
and both religion and history play a major role in the constitution of
memory. However, if the process is to succeed, these beliefs must
ultimately be made subservient to pragmatic ideas.
86 Shibley Telhami, Camp David Two, Assumptions and Consequences, Current
History Jan 2001 on
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- 46 -
It may be that ultimately "the question of historical interpretation is a
crucial issue in regard to the Jewish-Palestinian conflict"87 or that it is
impossible to resolve this conflict without emphasising religious
arguments88. It may be that this is a 'historic conflict' and that any
agreement that ignores this element will ultimately fail89 or that true
reconciliation can not be reached without recourse to history. It may
be that the Oslo accord could afford to pay lip service to the political
framing of the conflict as it was only an interim solution and did not
have to deal with the complicated, emotionally fraught (and potentially
historical and existential?) issues that were yet to come. This remains
to be seen. However, Yossi Beilin’s comment that “[We] should not
ignore anything, but should be very strong and very courageous in
detaching and separating between all this knowledge (our history) and
the current negotiations.”90 still rings true.
In the Israel-Palestine paradigm, with all the emotion that is
inherently present in discussions over many issues, the best way
towards agreement and stopping the bloodshed is understanding and
accepting that history is something best left to the past. It remains to
be seen if this is in any way feasible.
Amnon Raz-Krakotzkin, A Peace without Arabs; The Discourse of Peace and Limits
of Israeli Consciousness in After Oslo, New Realities, Old Problems ed. George
Giacmen and Dag Jorund Lonning (Chicago 1998)p68
88 Roni Milo, a self declared secularist in the Israeli government resigned after
hearing of Barak's plans to relinquish sovereignty over the Temple Mount saying
www.jpost/Editions/2001/01/15/News/News.19414.html on 15/3/02. Similarly,
Amr Sabet in ‘The Peace Process and the Politics of Conflict Resolution’ JPS XXVII
no.4 (summer 98) pp5-19 explains that religious convictions in the conflict remain
fixed parameters and can not be externalised as determining components and
reduced to culturally alterable variables. Unless the resolution parameters
incorporate a sense of justice, Sabet claims the process will ultimately collapse.
89 Referring to the Refugee issue, Rashid Khalidi claims that “History can not be
declared irrelevant and set aside in the interests of an expedient solution which
corresponds to the unequal balance of forces between Palestinians and Israelis”
(Truth, Justice and Reconciliation: Elements of a Solution to the Palestinian Refugee
Issue, Rashid Khalidi, in The Palestinian Exodus 1948-98, ed. Ghada Karmi and
Eugene Cotran, Ithaca Press Reading 1999 p224)
90 Yossi Beilin, a dialogue on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process with Yossi Beilin
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