Myths about the Middle East Peace Process

By Ronald Forthofer, Ph.D.   February 05 2002
[A reservist with the  Christian  Peacemaker  Teams  and  was  in
Israel/Palestine this past July and August. He is also a  retired
professor and was a Green Party candidate for Congress in 2000.]

COLORADO ( Since the July 2000 Camp David
debacle, there has been a steady  drumbeat  of  media  propaganda
falsely blaming only the Palestinians and, in  particular,  their
leader, Yasser Arafat, for the failure of the peace negotiations.
Some columnists again spouted the Big Lie that  the  Palestinians
'never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.' These pundits
claimed  that  the  Palestinians  foolishly   rejected   Israel's
'generous' offer.

Ami Ayalon, head of Shin Bet, Israel's internal security  service
from February 1996 to May 2000, recently spoke  about  the  peace
negotiations and Israel's offer in an interview in  the  December
23, 2001 edition of Le Monde. In response to the question,  "From
Oslo to Camp David,  did  Israel  miss  a  rare  opportunity  for
peace?", Ayalon responded:

"Yes. It is not all the Israelis' fault.  The  Palestinians,  the
international community, bear some responsibility, but we  missed
an extraordinary opportunity:  the  international  situation  was
incredibly favorable after the fall of communism, the  Gulf  war,
the emergence of globalization, all these phenomena led Israel to
reexamine its own assumptions. Now, we are regressing."

Regarding the 'generous' offer, Ayalon said: "In Israel,  no  one
is  in  touch  with  reality.  This  is  a   consequence   of   a
misperception of the peace process. 'We have  been  generous  and
they refused!' is ridiculous, and everything  that  follows  from
this misperception is skewed."

Israeli  peace  activist  Jeff  Halper,  in  describing   Barak's
'generous' offer at Camp David (the return of most  of  the  West
Bank and Gaza while Israel still  controlled  much  of  the  road
system and the borders), used the metaphor of  a  prison:  "in  a
prison, the prisoners live in about 95% of  the  space,  and  the
guards control 'only' about 5%. But this 5% includes all  of  the
corridors between the cells, and therefore the guards control the
entire prison. Thus it is with the Palestinian territories, which
are being incorporated and at the same time isolated by  Israel's
policy of divide and control."

As a result of the disinformation about the negotiations and  the
current intifada, many have concluded that the Palestinians don't
want peace. In  an  article  on  the  Israeli  peace  group  Gush
Shalom's web site, Dr. Tony Klug, co-chair  of  the  Council  for
Jewish-Palestinian Dialogue in the United Kingdom, wrote:

"Many  erstwhile  supporters  of  the  Israeli  peace  camp  felt
betrayed and duped and have joined the chorus of  vengeance  that
has swept the land. Once again, there is a mood in Israel of  'no
alternative'.  The  besiegers  feel  besieged.  However,  it   is
increasingly becoming clear  that  the  simple  Israeli  view  of
events at Camp David and the popular  Israeli  interpretation  of
them are at variance with the truth."

Klug also rejected the idea that Bill Clinton and the U.S. played
the role as an honest broker at Camp David. According to Klug:

"The Clinton administration itself has since  publicly  disclosed
that all proposals put forward by the  US  were  co-ordinated  in
advance with the Israeli delegation. In effect, the most powerful
country in the world teamed up with the most powerful country  in
the region to induce one of the weakest  non-states  anywhere  to
accept a sequence of  half-baked  proposals,  with  a  threat  of
sanctions if it did not comply."

Ayalon, addressing the claim that Arafat turned to violence after
negotiations failed to meet his demands, said:

"Yasser Arafat neither prepared nor triggered the  Intifada.  The
explosion was spontaneous, against Israel, as all  hope  for  the
end  of  occupation  disappeared,  and  against  the  Palestinian
authority,  its  corruption,  its  impotence.  Arafat  could  not
repress it. The peace process is what allowed Arafat to  be  seen
as the head of a  national  liberation  movement  rather  than  a
collaborator of Israel. Without it, he can fight neither  against
the Islamists nor against his own base.  The  Palestinians  would
end up hanging him in the public square."

In another article on the Gush Shalom web site, Dr.  Ron  Pundak,
one of the Israeli negotiators of  the  Oslo  Accords  and  later
talks, supported Ayalon's view when he said: "Sharon's visit, and
the killing of worshippers on the plazas of  Jerusalem's  mosques
on the following day, was the match that ignited the powder  keg,
which had threatened to explode for years."

In   an   additional   attempt   to    demonstrate    Palestinian
intransigence, some have claimed that Israel offered Palestinians
sovereignty over the Haram al-Sharif(Temple Mount) area and  that
the  Palestinians  rejected  this  offer.  However,  as  late  as
December 2000, five months after Camp David,  Israel  refused  to
agree to Palestinian sovereignty. In his December 29, 2000 column
in the British paper, the Independent, Robert Fisk reported  that
Danny Yatom, Barak's security adviser, said Mr. Barak  "will  not
sign an accord  which  transfers  sovereignty  [over  the  Temple
Mount/ Haram al-Sharif] to the Palestinians."

Many  are  probably  unaware  that,  despite  all  the   negative
rhetoric, negotiations continued after Camp David, concluding  in
a session at  the  Egyptian  resort  of  Taba  in  January  2001.
Although some have claimed  that  the  issue  of  return  of  the
Palestinian  refugees  was  a  stumbling  block   preventing   an
agreement, many insider Israeli, Jewish and  Palestinian  sources
refute this charge.

The January 27, 2001 joint statement issued by  the  Israeli  and
Palestinian negotiators after Taba  supports  the  idea  that  an
agreement was close at hand.

"On all these  issues  there  was  substantial  progress  in  the
understanding of the other side's positions and in some  of  them
the two  sides  grew  closer.  As  stated  above,  the  political
timetable prevented reaching an agreement on all the issues.

However, in light of the significant progress  in  narrowing  the
differences between the sides, the two sides are  convinced  that
in a short period of time and given an intensive effort  and  the
acknowledgment of the essential and urgent nature of reaching  an
agreement,  it  will  be  possible  to  bridge  the   differences
remaining and attain a  permanent  settlement  of  peace  between
them. In this respect, the two sides are confident that they  can
begin and move forward in this process at the earliest  practical

In addition, Pundak wrote:

"The negotiations in Taba ...  proved  that  a  permanent  status
agreement between Israel and the Palestinians was  within  reach.
.. The talks did not end in an  explosion,  but  rather  in  the
feeling that the time remaining would not enable the two sides to
reach a written and signed agreement. On the  delicate  issue  of
the Palestinian refugees and the right of return, the negotiators
reached a draft determining the parameters and procedures  for  a
solution, along with a clear  emphasis  that  its  implementation
would not threaten the Jewish character of the State of Israel."

In an August 2001 article located  on  the  Palestinian  National
Authority's web site, Dr. Herbert  C.  Kelman,  Director  of  the
Program on International Conflict Analysis and Resolution at  the
Weatherhead  Center  for   International   Affairs   at   Harvard
University, agreed with Pundak on Taba as well as on the right of
return issue.

"At the same time, it needs to be clear that,  just  as  Israelis
cannot endorse the right of return, Palestinians cannot  renounce
that right, as  it  is  a  central  element  of  the  Palestinian
national narrative. Negotiations need to deal with the  issue  at
two levels. At the level of principle, they  must  find  language
whereby Israel would acknowledge its share of responsibility  and
express regret for the plight of the refugees. At  the  level  of
implementation,  negotiations  would  develop   a   comprehensive
program of resettlement and compensation of  refugees,  according
to which a limited number would have  the  choice  to  return  to
Israel and others would be able  to  settle  in  the  Palestinian
state, to stay in their countries of  current  residence,  or  to
immigrate to other countries around the world.

The specific positions on the issues, as proposed above, are well
within the range of positions that both Palestinian  and  Israeli
officials were prepared to endorse  during  and  after  the  Camp
David talks."

In an April 15, 2001 letter to U.S. Congressional members,  Yaser
Abed  Rabbo,  of  the  Negotiations  Affairs  Department  of  the
Palestine Liberation Organization, stated:

"The refugee issue is not insurmountable, however. In  the  weeks
following Camp David, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators engaged
usefully on the issue of refugees. In the negotiations  at  Taba,
for  example,  very  workable  solutions  to  this   issue   were

According to Israeli peace activist Uri Averny  of  Gush  Shalom,
even Shlomo Ben Ami, Israel's Foreign Minister  during  the  last
part of Barak's tenure, "admitted that Arafat did  in  fact  make
some far-reaching compromises from the Palestinian  perspective."
Among these was that Arafat "agreed to relinquish the  historical
claim of the refugees to return to their homes and  accepted,  in
principle, that Israel will only allow the return of  an  agreed-
upon limited number."

Given all this, why does Israel continue  to  vilify  Arafat  and
claim that he is 'irrelevant' and not a reliable partner? Shabtai
Shavit, head of the Security Service (Mossad) from 1989-1996  and
now the chairman of the Institute for  Counter-Terrorism  at  the
Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, Israel, explained:

"In the thirty something years that he [Arafat] leads, he managed
to reach real achievements in  the  political  and  international
sphere ... He got the Nobel peace prize, and in  a  single  phone
call, he can obtain a meeting with every  leader  in  the  world.
There is nobody in the Palestinian gallery  that  can  enter  his
shoes in this context  of  international  status.  If  they  [the
Palestinians] will loose [sic] this gain, for us, this is a  huge
achievement.The Palestinian issue will get off the  international
agenda." (interview in Yediot's Weekend Supplement,  December  7,

In conclusion, if there is to be peace in the Middle East, people
must face reality and stop falsely blaming the other side for all
the problems. Klug expressed it well when he said "It is  of  the
utmost importance for the destinies of the two peoples  that  the
record is set straight and the myths debunked so that a path  may
be cleared for a future peace initiative."

Copyright (c) 2002 Palestine Chronicle