Mythmaking about peacemaking: The left’s continuing denial of Palestinian rejectionism
In Mr. Judah Skoff’s most recent article here in the Times, he warns (correctly, in my view) of the pressure that will soon inevitably be brought to bear on Israel by the international communiuty to accede to demands to combine with the Palestinians into the formation of a single, bi-national state, the implausible unworkability of such a scenario, and the possible alternatives to such an eventuality. He also sketches a breif history of the failure of the peace process from Oslo to the present day, positing blame on Palestinian rejectionism and intransigence.
Mr. Skoff’s analysis is trenchant, timely, and to the point. However, Professor Shaul Magid, registering a comment below the article, took exeption to Mr. Skoff’s recounting of the peace process, insisting that both Palestinians and Israelis were both equally to blame for the failure. I was particularly struck by the Professor’s statements on the Taba negotiations of January 2001, which he insisted were “going quite well” and which “came very close to a comprehensive agreement… until Sharon closed them down.” But, let the Professor speak for himself:
“This essay lays out some interesting claims (all of which we already know) but is based on an inaccuracy. The rhetoric that Israel made reasonable offers three times that were rejected is simply not true. It is true that Arafat rejected camp David II. However Arafat approved of the Taba talks after Camp David and those talks were going quite well, even according to Israeli participants, until Sharon closed them down as one of his first acts as PM…
So, while the essay is interesting it is founded on the mythic notion that Israel “wants peace” and the Pals do not. If you want to write an honest essay on this issue you must stand outside the Israeli myth that it is willing to make “painful compromises” and the fault lies with the Palestinians. It is simply not the case. Both sides bear equal responsibility”
If this is indeed true, then not only is Mr. Skoff wrong, but Israel was guilty of an unpardonable act of folly and intransigence, and the Palestinians are unquestionably the victim of one of the worst, most unjust smears of all time, not to mention the injustice of denying them a state when they were willing to make peace and end the conflict. To have knowingly spurned a chance for peace, and denied the Palestinians their place among the nations all for greed for territory and ideological intransigence, would blot the honor of the state of Israel for all time. All of the violence and hardships endured by Palestinians and Israelis alike over the past decade has flowed from the failure of the talks between July 2000 and January 2001, and if the Israelis caused the failure, or knowingly forfeited a chance for their success, they would unquestionably be responsible for a needless, gratuitous prolongation of the conflict.
But is it true? Was Israel unwilling to make painful compromises? Were the talks “going quite well?” Did the talks come “very close to a comprehensive agreement… until Sharon closed them down?” Let’s see.
After the failure of the Camp David summit in July 2000, the Israelis and the Palestinians had a series of secret meetings in August and September in an attempt resolve some of the thornier issues between them. President Clinton dispatched Middle East envoy Dennis Ross to participate in these discussions, and both parties agreed to an American proposal that could serve as a basis for discussion in a future summit. Ross spent the next three months drafting these proposals, and by December 2000, these were presented to both parties. These were the Clinton Parameters.
Israel accepted the Plan in principle, with some reservations. As Dennis Ross would later write,Israel’s reservations were “within” the plan and Arafat’s were “outside” the plan. On December 27 Ross met with the Palestinian Authority’s Ahmed Qurei (Abu Ala) who informed the Americans of the Plan’s inadequacies and its unacceptability. Ross warned him about the consequences of rejection:
“[Y]ou will have Sharon as Prime Minister. He will be elected for sure if there is no deal, and your 97 percent will become 40 to 45 percent; your capital in East Jerusalem will be gone; the IDF out of the Jordan Valley will be gone; unlimited right of return for refugees to your state will be gone.AbuAla, you know I am telling you the truth.”
The Parameters proposed the following as a basis for discussion:
(a) a Palestinian state on all of Gaza and 97% of the West Bank (phrased as an Israeli retention of 4-6% of the West Bank and a 1-3% land swap of Israeli land, with 97% thus the midpoint),
(b) a capital inEast Jerusalem,
(c) a right of return to the new Palestinian state, and
(d) a massive international compensation fund.
Here was the Palestinians’ response to point (c):
“We wish to explain why the latest US proposals…fail to satisfy the conditions required for a permanent peace. It would…force the Palestinians to surrender the right of return for Palestinian refugees…We cannot accept a proposal that secures neither the establishment of a viable Palestinian state nor the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes.”
“The United States proposal reflects a wholesale adoption of the Israeli position that the implementation of the right of return be subject entirely atIsrael’s discretion…. Recognition of the right of return and the provision of choice to the refugees is a prerequisite for the closure of the conflict.”
The answer thus explicitly rejected the alternative of compensation for the refugees and compensated resettlement elsewhere mentioned in the proposal, and could be summed up into two words: no deal.
Now let’s listen to the objections to point (a):
“Ultimately, it is impossible to agree to a proposal that punishes Palestinians while rewarding Israel’s illegal settlement policies. A proposal involving annexation of 4 to 6 percent . . . of the land would inevitably damage vital Palestinian interests.”
Got that, folks? The 3% of theWest Bank that Israel (w/ land swaps) would retain is a non-starter because it would “punish Palestinians,” “reward Israel’s illegal settlement policies” and “inevitably damage vital Palestinian interests.”
I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m failing to detect here a spirit of good faith and willingness to compromise. And keep in mind: the Parameters were meant to serve as a mere basis for discussion. Yet even here, the Palestinians could not miss an opportunity to sound off about matters not even addressed in the proposal:
“The United States proposal remains silent on a number of issues that are essential for the establishment of a lasting and comprehensive peace. . . . Specifically, the proposal does not address water, compensation for damages resulting from over thirty years of occupation, the environment, future economic relations, and other state-to-state issues.”
The Palestinian response simply said no to all points (a)-(d), complained about items not even addressed in the proposals, and even mischaracterized some of the things they were saying no to (i.e., “Cantons”? Please).
How many ways can someone say no?
Elsa Walsh of the New Yorker wrote in herMarch 24, 2003 article that Prince Bandar ofSaudi Arabia—no friend ofIsrael—said to Arafat onJan. 2, 2001:
“Since 1948, every time we’ve had something on the table we say no. When we say yes, it’s not on the table any more. Then we have to deal with something less. Isn’t it about time we say yes?…If we lose this opportunity, it’s not going to be a tragedy, it is going to be crime.”
“Bandar believed that Arafat’s failure to accept the deal in January of 2001 was a tragic mistake—a crime really. [Bandar said] “I was there. I was a witness. I cannot lie…I still have not recovered, to be honest with you, inside, from the magnitude of the missed opportunity that January.”
Said Dennis Ross of Arafat’s rejection of the Parameters:
“[Arafat's] reservations were deal-killers, involving his actual rejection of the Western Wall part of the formula on the Haram, his rejection of the most basic elements of the Israeli security needs, and his dismissal of our refugee formula. All were deal killers.”
And how far did the Palestinians move from their stated objections to the Parameters in the subsequent negotiations later that month at Taba? The answer: not one inch. Nor have they to this day. As with their answer to President Clinton earlier, at Taba they would not consider the Parameters even as a basis for discussion.
Following the break-up of the conference on January 29, 2001, Ahmed Qurei (Abu Ala’a) told Al-Ayyam: “We refused to accept the Clinton initiative as a basis for the negotiations. The Israelis said that the Clinton proposals should be the basis, but we rejected it.” Said Nabil Sha’ath: “Clinton is a dead horse.”
Not only did the Palestinians not move an inch from their previous positions, they actually regressed from them at Taba. For example, the Palestinians at Camp David agreed that the Israelis could retain the two main settlement blocs of Gush Etzion and Ariel; they were at the time divided on the merits of conceding all of Male Adumum. However, at Taba, they insisted that while Israel could retain the settlements at Gush Etzion and Ariel, they must forfeit the settlement blocs, thus disallowing a single Palestinian village to become part ofIsrael and necessitating the removal of about 100,000 Israelis. They also now demanded that Male Adumum and Pisgat Ze’ev be removed completely, and that Efrat, Gush Etzion’s main population center numbering several thousand inhabitants, be uprooted.
All in all, unlike what they pronounced acceptable at Camp David the previous July, the Palestinians now demanded that Israel evacuate 130 out of 146 West Bank settlements involving the removal of some 120,000 settlers out of 180,000—three to four times the maximum number contemplated by both Barak and Clinton in the latest proposals. As Shlomo Ben-Ami said:
“they presented a counter-map that totally eroded the three already shrunken [settlement] blocs and effectively voided the whole bloc concept of content. According to their map, only a few isolated settlements would remain, which would be dependent on thin strings of narrow access roads.”
On Jerusalem, and sovereignty over the holy sites, there was similar regression. At Taba the Palestinians demanded full sovereignty over the entire Temple Mount, excepting the Jewish Quarter and the Wailing Wall. On refugees there was no movement whatsoever. The Israelis launched the talks with a proposal for a symbolic return of 25,000 refugees; this was curtly refused outright, as was a prpoposal for 100,000. As Shlomo Ben-Ami put it to Ha’aretz later that year about the Palestinians and the issue of the refugees: “At Taba, too, they didn’t budge. A dream proposal is on the table, but the Palestinians are in no hurry.”
Following the Taba talks, Abu Ala told Al-Ayyam on January 26: “there has never before been a clearer gap in the positions of the two sides,” and Saeb Erekat told Al-Quds that the talks “emphasized the size of the gap between the positions of the two sides and the depth of the disagreements, primarily on the subjects of Jerusalem and the refugees.” Nabil Sha’ath similarly told Al-Quds on January 26, 2001:
“The Palestinian side did not discuss the Israeli proposal to hand out questionnaires to the refugees in which they would be given the opportunity to choose between return and compensation. The Israelis can say whatever they want, but the starting point of all of our discussions is the refugees’ absolute and sacred Right of Return.”
And lastly, as Arafat himself had said the previous September,
“Return is a sacred right. People are fooling themselves if they think that can be renounced in exchange for a handful of dollars.”
At the conclusion of the talks both sides did indeed issue a statement that read:
“The sides declare that they have never been closer to reaching an agreement and it is thus our shared belief that the remaining gaps could be bridged with the resumption of negotiations following the Israeli elections.”
But this was mere diplomatic cant, and, as we have seen, nothing could have been further from the truth.
There is simply no room for debate over this. The Palestinians’ rejections of both the Clinton proposals of December 2000, and everything proposed at Taba in January 2001, were unambiguous and unequivocal: they rejected the Clinton proposals as a basis for discussion, made not a single counter-proposal, and even rejected at Taba much of what they had previously accepted earlier at Camp David.
The conclusion of the Taba talks was followed by a depressing, though fitting, epilogue at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on January 28, 2001, well emphasizing the “closeness” of the two sides. Despite the violence of the last several months, and the recent breakdown of the talks, Shimon Peres, speaking for Israel, spoke warmly and hopefully of partnership, friendship and the need for tolerance and peaceful co-existence between both sides.
Peres had thus extended an olive branch to Arafat, which the PLO chairman, now assuming the lectern, promptly torched. He accused Israel of:
“ [a] policy of economic strangulations, closures and siege, as well as starvation and collective punishment against our Palestinian people…[waging] a savage and barbaric war, as well as, a blatant and fascist military aggression against our Palestinian people…,” and “using internationally prohibited weapons and ammunitions that include depleted uranium.”
Israel was similarly to blame for the violence of the al-Aqsa intifada:
“Whoever wants really to achieve peace and seeks it with belief and sincerity, does not resort to killing, persecution, assassination, destruction and devastation as the Government of Israel and its army of occupation are doing to our people these days and since four continuous months.”
This trumpet blast of blood libel, it should be remembered, occurred after all of the Israeli concessions and withdrawals of the last seven years, the withdrawal from Lebanon, the offer of some 99% of the Golan to Syria (refused that month for a second time within the last year), and the two generous offers of statehood in the previous months. With the peace process finally dead from his sabotage, his old enemy Sharon soon to be elected, the Second Intifada in full swing, and now free of any diplomatic constraints, here, un-rehabilitated by the therapy of Oslo, was the real man speaking his long-held hate from the heart.
Of course, Professor Magid is far from alone in pressing (or, perhaps, buying into) this false narrative. Noam Chomsky, Norman Finkelstein, Stephen Walt, John Mearsheimer, and former President Carter have similarly propagated the myth of Israeli intransigence and/or co-equal blame for the failure of the talks.
Here, for example is a copy of the map printed by President Carter in his book “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid” (2006) titled “Palestinian Interpretation of Clinton’s Proposal 2000.” This, however, is not a map reflecting the Clinton Parameters of December 2000. It is, in fact, a map based on an earlier proposal made by the Israelis to the Palestinians early on in the Camp David discussions in July of 2000. In this link here, can be seen two maps. The map on the right shows the actual final offer made to the Palestinians at Camp David in July of 2000. The map on the left, which was forwarded to the Palestinians early in the Camp David discussions, was falsely portrayed by the Palestinians as the Israeli final offer after the Camp David talks collapsed. (In fact, not only is this not the map reflecting the Israeli final offer at Camp David, but it also distorts the earlier proposal which offered 87% of the West Bank instead of the 83% reflected on the map).
Now compare the map on the left with the Carter map titled “Palestinian Interpretation of Clinton’s Proposal 2000.” Remove the settlement blocks in black from the Dennis Ross map and the maps are identical. Anyone can see the deception for themselves. President Carter took a map from Dennis Ross’s book that the Palestinians falsely portrayed as the final offer that was presented to them atCamp David, removed the settlement blocs in black, and retitled the map “Palestinian Interpretation of Clinton’s Proposal 2000.”
(Ross himself took exception to Carter’s obvious deception in a NY Times op-ed. Carter denied any deception. Here is the map reflecting the actual Clinton proposal of December 2000, which Dennis Ross himself had authored, along with a further explication of the post-Camp David and post-Taba deceptions of the Palestinians about what was really offered and what they really rejected.)
These continuing attempts on the left to deny the Palestinians’ rejection of a sovereign, contiguous state in 2000/2001 and the horrific consequences that have resulted from it, continues to be a sad, sorry endeavor requiring ever more spin and argumentative gymnastics. But facts are stubborn things.
The real culprit in the failure of the peace process was never a few single digit percentage points of territory here and there, or this or that settlement here or there, but something deeper and more fundamental than the contours and content of a Palestinian state: it is a basic, fundamental rejection of the legitimacy of the Jewish presence in this land, and any legitimate attachment to it. This is by no means universally shared, but it is there, omnipresent, and it permeates the culture from the grass roots all the way to the leadership.
The Palestinians’ ultimate strategy, as Mr. Skoff notes, is not at all difficult to discern. First, they envisage a clean sweep of all Jews from the West Bank, second, the gradual flooding of the state of Israelwith some several million Palestinian Arabs, thus erasing the Jewish majority of the state and transforming into one with an Arab majority. This rights the wrong of 1948, and reverses the nakba.
This is, in fact, a two-step plan to create aPalestinewithout anIsrael. It grants Israel “peace” if only it will agree to drown itself in an act of demographic suicide.
Mr. Skoff is further correct that, if implemented, this bi-national state would be a disaster the likes of which could scarcely be imagined. There would be instant pandemonium, as Arab and Jewish communities would vie for dominance and try to settle old scores, and as millions of refugees from 1948 and their descendants, now resident in the West Bank, Gaza, Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon would attempt to repossess lost houses and lands in pre-1967 Israel creating an Arab majority in the bi-national state. If that state were democratic (and that’s a very, very big if), the majority would determine its character, and in fairly short order it would become an Arab state with a gradually declining Jewish minority. The PA and, needless to say, Hamas, who have shown precious little concern for either democracy, freedom, rule of law, or human rights where the Palestinian people are concerned, would doubtfully confer any of these on Jews, of all people, living under their domain. I have little doubt that the Arab majority would soon pass legislation blocking further Jewish immigration into the country, making life for them increasingly untenable to the complete indifference of the EU and the UN, and soon enough, Jews would begin to leave.
I certainly possess no higher wisdom about how peace can be made under the present circumstances, and I honestly hope and pray that my pessimism is indeed just pessimism from disillusionment, and that future events prove me wrong. But this I do know: peace is never going to happen until the Palestinians and their myriad supporters and apologists end their love affair with the Big Lie, and that tampering with the historical record and mythmaking about peacemaking will not make peace more likely.