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Myth of Israel’s ‘generous offer’ damages truth, peace


The myth of then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s “generous offer” and “Israel’s painful concessions” in the summer of 2000, and the consequent portrayal of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat as a “truculent rejectionist” in the mainstream media needs to be examined.

Although an American (Robert Malley) and an Israeli (Ron Pundak), diplomats intimately involved in the Camp David negotiations, went public some 12 months after Camp David with more nuanced versions of what really happened, the “generous offer” continues to be damaging to truth and ultimately to peace. Taken out of context, the question “Didn’t Barak offer 95 percent of the occupied territories to Arafat at Camp David?” is exploited to the fullest and enters the mythology of Israeli propaganda. Repeated enough, people believe it.

So just what was the offer made by Mr. Barak in July 2000?

According to Malley and Pundak, both Barak and Arafat made serious tactical errors based on misperceptions of the other. Neither side exhibited sensitivity to the others’ concerns or suffering. Barak wanted to bypass interim agreements and present Arafat with an “all-or-nothing” proposal, with no fallback options. He presented nothing in writing; proposals were stated verbally.

Conclusions of what proposals might be were drawn from maps. Israel would not return to its 1967 borders. Barak’s offer would have left the main Israeli settlements and their Jewish-only bypass roads intact. Palestinian villages would continue to be “islands” isolated from each other, “Bantustans” completely surrounded by Israeli military who could and do blockade entire villages from travel. Except for three villages, Barak excluded the 28 Palestinian villages Israel illegally annexed to Jerusalem. Israel would accept no responsibility for the Palestinian refugee problem. To his credit, Barak broke long-held taboos in discussing Jerusalem and the refugees.

Arafat was reluctant to go into the talks without reasonable assurance of success. President Clinton promised Arafat that if the talks failed, Arafat would not be blamed. Yet, when the talks failed, Clinton placed most of the blame on Arafat and contributed to the misleading, simplistic propaganda of the “generous offer” by Barak, which was then picked up by and carried on in the mainstream media. Given the history of broken promises and increased land confiscation and accelerated settlement expansion under Barak, Arafat didn’t trust these verbal promises. He wanted proof of Israel’s seriousness in implementing the agreements previously made (and negated by Netanyahu), and feared that in accepting an “all-or-nothing” final status proposal, the entire basis of international legitimacy would be undermined.

In the 1993 Oslo Agreement, by recognizing Israel’s right to exist, Palestinians already gave up 78 percent of their land and accepted the formula “land for peace” within the context of U.N. Security Council Resolution 242, which calls for the withdrawal of Israel from the occupied territories. This meant Palestinians were willing to settle for 22 percent of originally mandated Palestine. To put it bluntly: You take $100 from me and later offer to repay $22. I cut my losses and give up $78. Still later you want more of my remaining $22. In short, Arafat felt Palestinians had made real concessions in settling for the territories occupied since the 1967 war. Sheer ineptness and internal squabbling among Palestinian negotiators confounded the Palestinian presentations.

Even without the valuable insights of Malley and Pundak, a cursory look at a map of the settlements and their bypass roads amidst Palestinian cities and towns strikingly reveals the impossibility of a viable sovereign Palestinian state. Sovereignty presupposes contiguous territory. How many of us would agree to travel 40 miles from one town to another when the actual distance between them is only five miles?

Jeff Halper, a professor at Ben Gurion University, calls it a “matrix of controls” a system of “facts on the ground,” settlements, military checkpoints, permits for travel, permits for building, closure political control over every aspect of Palestinian life. Israeli military decide if and when one can go to work, to market, to school, to the doctor or hospital, to church/mosque, or to visit relatives, leave one’s home or one’s village.

Control means when and how much water will be allowed Palestinians. In a sense, control is as important as territory. A member of the Israeli peace group Gush-Shalom says, “Prisoners may occupy 95 percent of prison space, but it is the other 5 percent that determines who is in control.” Palestinians feel helpless and hopeless against the whole apartheid system of control, control backed by F-16s, Apache helicopter gunships and tanks.

There is no way Arafat or the Palestinian people could have or should have accepted Barak’s offer. Palestinians are not asking Israel for concessions, but compliance with international law not to give up, but to give back land.

Sister of Mercy Miriam Ward is a founding member of Pax Christi Burlington, Vt.

National Catholic Reporter, March 1, 2002