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The previous prime minister, Ehud Barak, reached an understanding with then U.S. president Bill Clinton that in the event a peace treaty is achieved between Israel and the Palestinians, the U.S. would sign a defense pact with Israel similar to agreements it has with NATO countries and commit itself to provide Israel with a "nuclear umbrella" - i.e., respond with American nuclear weapons if Israel is attacked by another country with nuclear weapons.

The details of the understanding between Barak and Clinton that was achieved at the Camp David summit two years ago were published yesterday in an article by Bruce Riedel, who was the president's Special Assistant for Near East and South Asian Affairs on the National Security Council. (Riedel's article can be seen on the bitterlemons.org Internet site, a forum for exchanging views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.)

Riedel told of his contacts with Barak's aides, Danny Yatom and Zvi Shtauber, to formulate the "defense agreement and the compensation package" that the U.S. would give Israel and its neighbors if a peace treaty were achieved. According to him, the Israelis came to Camp David prepared and placed a draft of the defense agreement on the table along with a detailed list of financial and security requests. The contacts on this issue had begun several months earlier, alongside the talks conducted by Barak with Syria, but the Israelis presented a far more detailed plan at Camp David.

According to Riedel, Barak wanted a contractual format for the strategic relations between the U.S. and Israel, which had developed substantially over the years but lacked a formal dimension. His proposal was to sign an agreement in which the U.S. would agree to come to Israel's aid in the event of future attacks and then get the pact ratified by the American Congress and the Knesset.

Barak's compensation package totaled $35 billion. Of that amount, Israel was to receive $15 billion in American aid for several purposes:

l $3 billion to pay for the expenses of removing Israeli settlers from settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

l $3-5 billion for modernizing and upgrading the Israel Defense Forces, including provision of early warning aircraft, attack submarines, helicopters and the deployment of the Arrow anti-tactical missile defense system.

l $2.5 billion in aid for redeploying IDF units from bases in the West Bank to new bases to be constructed inside the Green Line.

l $1 billion for building training facilities to compensate for those lost in the transfer of the Judean Desert to the Palestinian Authority.

l $2 billion for the construction of fences and roads along the Israeli-Palestinian border.

Riedel also recalled a lighter moment during the summit: one night, Clinton invited the delegations in Camp David to watch a movie about a German U-boat captured during World War II in order to relax. "The next day the Israeli team told me they had forgotten their navy's need for two additional submarines to add to those the U.S. had already helped fund from Germany. I suggested to the president that night that we show romantic comedies from then on to the delegations."

In addition to money, Israel asked for two sophisticated military technologies - Tomahawk cruise missiles and the F-22 advanced fighter aircraft that was being developed. According to Riedel, the administration objected to the transfer of Tomahawk technology to Israel for fear of a violation of the missile technology transfer control regime. But Riedel adds: "Clinton did commit the U.S. to providing F-22s to Israel, subject to congressional approval, at the end of his administration."

Barak suggested allocating $10 billion for compensating Palestinian refugees, a sum which the administration estimated that that was not enough but could serve as a basis for raising additional money, and another $10 billion for building desalination plants in Israel, the Palestinian state and Jordan.

The administration deliberated over the Israeli terms, which seemed exaggerated to various officials. But Clinton agreed to accept them. "The president's view was simple; if it would help Barak sell a controversial and painful series of compromises to the Israeli public and to resolve the outstanding refugee and water issues, then he [Clinton] would do all he could to get the treaty and the money," Riedel wrote. "He told Barak during the summit that he would do so and Barak operated on the assumption of full American support, subject of course to the Congress - Clinton was very clear, however, that the U.S.-Israel deal was entirely contingent on conclusion of an Israeli-Palestinian agreement."

Riedel relates that the Palestinian Authority Chairman, Yasser Arafat, presented only one request to Clinton, that American soldiers make up the core of the international force posted in the Jordan Valley after the IDF withdrawal from there. "This request came in the middle of the night when Saeb Erekat woke me up at three A.M. to ask this key question. I called Sandy Berger (the national security adviser at the time) and the president immediately. Again, Clinton was positive and said yes."

Riedel, now the CIA station chief in London, summarizes: "Two years after Camp David the tragedy of the missed opportunity that the summit presented is clearer than ever. Imagine a Middle East without the Intifada and with a peace agreement buttressed by an enormous reconstruction fund, akin to the Marshall Plan that President Truman used to rebuild Europe after World War Two."