A Summit Clouded by Suspicion

"A Manual for a Wounded Dove," by Yossi Beilin, Yedioth Ahronoth Books, 304 pages, NIS 78

"A Manual for a Wounded Dove," by Yossi Beilin, Yedioth Ahronoth Books, 304 pages, NIS 78

"Just Beyond Reach: The Israeli-Palestinian Peace Negotiations 1999-2001," by Gilad Sher, Yedioth Ahronoth Books, 454 pages, NIS 88

"Quel avenir pour Israel?" ("What Future for Israel?"), by Shlomo Ben-Ami, PUF, 360 pages, FF 137, 21 euros

One after the other, three books devoted to the peace process during Ehud Barak's tenure have appeared recently. The authors, who took an active part in the diplomatic moves during that period, reveal new facts about the complicated and circuitous negotiations as well as interesting personal accounts, and attempt to analyze the reasons for the failure of the process, which began with soaring hopes and ended in embarrassment, terrible collapse and bloody disturbances.

There is also criticism of the Israeli side in the books. Yossi Beilin sometimes disagrees with approaches and conceptions of Ehud Barak - to whom, incidentally, he dedicates the book. This is a thought-provoking work by a statesman who is worth listening to. In the book by Gilad Sher, which is overflowing with details, the self-criticism, where it exists at all, is localized and marginal. And Shlomo Ben-Ami knows mainly how to criticize the other side and heaps censure on "the enemy," which is what he frequently calls the Palestinian leadership.

"For [Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser] Arafat," he writes for example, "Oslo was a huge camouflage behind which he disguised himself. He entered a process which for him was not intended to legitimize the principle of two states for two peoples, but rather to create a basis and a springboard for a plan combining political and terrorist moves in order gradually to cast into question Israel's right to exist" (Ben-Ami, page 358).

In contrast to the other two authors, Ben-Ami criticizes the Oslo agreements and casts barbs at Shimon Peres, the father of those agreements. Ben-Ami is the disciple of a different approach, the Camp David approach, that shattered in our faces. The structure of his book is also different. While Beilin's book and Sher's book are built around diaries and constitute valuable documentation, with many quotations and dates as well as a detailed index and a bibliography, Ben-Ami's book "floats" and is constructed as a long interview that jumps from topic to topic, almost without any dates, index or bibliography, but with a lot of polemics. There are four long chapters in his book, and the first of them is devoted to the story of his life. This is an interesting chapter in itself, but it does not really adhere to a book entitled "Quel avenir pour Israel."

"I am interested in being education minister, or foreign minister, or prime minister. The rest doesn't interest me," it says in this chapter (page 74). It is not noted that Ben-Ami served as minister of public security.

There are also errors in Ben-Ami's book, some of them egregious. Ben-Ami is allowed not to like UN Security Council Resolution 242 of November 22, 1967, but he is not allowed to rewrite it: He explains that there is a difference between Security Council Resolution 425, which called for a withdrawal from Lebanon, and No. 242. The first "relates only to a withdrawal, without inviting the sides to conduct negotiations about it. However, Resolution 242 does not speak about withdrawal, but rather about negotiations to determine secure and recognized borders."

A quick look at 242 shows that the first word in the resolution, after the preamble, is "Withdrawal (of Israeli armed forces)," whereas there is no mention in the resolution of negotiations about borders, as Ben-Ami claims (page 140).

Complement and contrast

The books reviewed here are a kind of insider testimony. Predictably, they contain identification with Barak's policy, to which the authors were partner, but their main importance is in the revelation of facts that shed new light on the events of that period. They complement and sometimes contradict one another.

It is particularly interesting to examine how the authors relate to the two main events that cast a shadow on the Barak era: the failed Camp David summit and the reasons for the outbreak of the Al-Aqsa Intifada. But, first of all, it is necessary to examine Barak's attitude toward the Palestinian issue and the way he dealt with it after he won the elections, as this is where the key to what happened afterward may be found.

Barak did not know how to create ties and a special relationship with Yasser Arafat; this is acknowledged by all three of the authors. The Palestinian leader was delighted by the victory of his new partner to "a peace of the brave," and said - I heard him at the time with my own ears - that "three wasted years of [Benjamin] Netanyahu and now we shall march quickly toward completing the peace process."

But a bitter surprise awaited him. First of all, Barak was in no hurry to meet him. An initial, hasty meeting took place only on July 11, 1999, almost two months after the elections, and it was defined by one of the participants on the Palestinian side as a disaster. A second meeting, on July 27, also at the Erez roadblock, was called a "holocaust."

Beilin and Sher discuss the negative effects of these two meetings (Ben-Ami does not mention them). Barak played an open hand, and the name of the game was a dictate. Barak informed Arafat at that time that he wanted to combine the implementation of the Wye memorandum, which had been signed in Netanyahu's day, with advancing the negotiations on a permanent status agreement. The Palestinians' response was, more or less: the same old tricks we've grown accustomed to; one trickster goes and another comes.

At the two meetings Arafat asked Barak to complete the implementation of the Wye agreement: the "further redeployments," the release of prisoners and so on, but Barak reopened all the issues and imposed a new invention, "a framework agreement on a permanent status agreement," which the Palestinians rejected but had to accept as they had no alternative.

The Palestinians very quickly understood, as noted, that the prime minister intended to skip over the implementation of the interim agreements and their disappointment was profound. Beilin says that by this move, Barak wanted to overturn the Oslo process, and he comments politely: "Even now, I find it difficult to understand the wisdom of this" (page 120). He calls the framework agreement "something strange and superfluous."

Gilad Sher writes that this behavior of Barak's damaged the relationship between the two peoples, as "such a move has to be carried out in coordination with the Palestinians - not as a dictate by an occupier to the occupied" (page 25). Beilin relates that "Clinton told Barak that changing a signed agreement was very problematic and noted that Arafat saw the implementation of the Wye agreement as a test of his intentions" (page 77), but the prime minister did not take this advice. At the second meeting, Barak was already giving Arafat orders, a kind of "shock treatment," as is related in Gilad Sher's book: "You have to take a decision," he told him (page 28).

Barak did everything he could to lower the Palestinians' expectations. When Arafat comments to Barak that the establishment of Jewish settlement has been going on without pause, Barak "reassures" him by saying that the situation will change the moment the framework agreement is achieved. The talks with the Syrians under American auspices led Arafat to feel that one of Barak's aims is to force the Palestinian leadership to accept, in the framework of a peace agreement, less than the minimum it finds acceptable. Barak did nothing to dispel the Palestinian partner's suspicions. The opposite is the case.

Sher cites Barak as saying explicitly in February, 2000: "If there is a breakthrough with the Syrians, the negotiations with the Palestinians will be delayed for many months" (page 64). "The Palestinians felt cheated, humiliated and shouldered against their will into a remote corner," states Sher.

The summit as a `trap'

The fruitless contact with the Palestinians continued, and there were also talks in the Swedish track that "trod water" for about a month. Instead of making an effort to accelerate and deepen the negotiations as the Palestinians wanted (Beilin, page 187), Barak pulled out, with Clinton's agreement in advance, the card he had kept close to his chest, and proposed holding a summit conference at Camp David. "The time has come for the leaders to decide," he said.

Arafat and all the factions of the Palestinian leadership saw the summit as a trap, even as a plot, aimed at tripping up the Palestinians. With my own ears, I heard Arafat express strong opposition to any summit that was not properly planned. Beilin: "The Palestinian side did almost everything it could to prevent the convening of the summit, apart from [making the] announcement that they would not participate in it. Arafat feared a summit that would take place without him knowing in advance what Barak was really prepared to offer him. He did not want to be surprised and he did not want to confront a Barak-Clinton axis and be accused at the end of the summit of not having compromised enough" (page 120).

Beilin even allows himself to write that Barak came to Camp David "having forced the Palestinian side to take part in the summit" (page 129). There is a great deal of evidence that Arafat wanted to agree on the basic principles in advance and come to the summit with Barak and Clinton as if to the ceremonial conclusion of the negotiations. But, writes Sher, it was Barak's dictate that dragged him there by force, without any preparation. And during the summit, Barak shuts himself in and refuses to meet with Arafat even once, leaving the (immoderate, political) pressure on the Palestinians leader in Clinton's hands.

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright cannot understand Barak's strange behavior and flings at him: "But it was you who wanted the summit!" (page 198).

National security advisor Sandy Berger says in a moment of anger that "Barak, the man who wanted the summit and pressured us all, is actually retreating from previous positions" (Sher, page 171).

Only one person, Ehud Barak, is still claiming that "No one pushed Arafat to Camp David" (in an interview to The New York Times, July 30, 2001, on the first anniversary of that miserable summit).

There are those who argue that Barak's entire aim at the Camp David summit was to prove that "there is no one to talk to" on the other side, so that he would be free to work on a plan for a unilateral separation from the Palestinians. All three authors reject this possibility. But without a doubt, this was one of Barak's options. Beilin relates that Barak repeatedly stated that the alternatives were either to come to an agreement with the Palestinians or "reveal their true colors."

That is, an agreement according to an Israeli dictate or condemnation, which could be the prelude to an imposed solution. From the descriptions of the Camp David days in the three books, a picture emerges of very peculiar negotiations. There were Israeli proposals to the Palestinians, and the latter had to accept or reject them. The proposals were transmitted orally, never in writing. Barak absolutely forbade transmitting them in writing, and everything was conducted orally. He allowed only the passing of small notes.

Where's the other side?

All three books devote little space to the positions of the Palestinian side, which are usually presented by Ben-Ami, above all, in a critical and even negative way. Beilin's book is respectful of the other side and it is never dragged down to a low level.

The authors could, for example, have referred to the publication by a member of the Palestinian delegation, Akram Haniya, the editor of the newspaper Al-Ayyam, which is mentioned in the bibliography of "A Manual for a Wounded Dove," and could have explained a few things to readers to complete the picture, such as the subject of "the generous and far-reaching proposals." These were unacceptable to the Palestinians because, as their spokesman explained any number of times, they involved additional concessions after the great historical, painful and wrenching concession of Oslo.

At Oslo the PLO took upon itself to arrive at a full peace agreement and an end to the conflict, and to accept, after the appropriate arrangements, the territories occupied in 1967, under Resolution 242 - that is, 22 percent of the Mandatory land of Israel, the homeland of the Palestinian people. Therefore, the Palestinians took care to base all negotiations with Israel on 242. This resolution by the UN Security Council negates annexations and determines explicitly in the introduction "the inadmissibility of acquisition of territory by war."

This was the reason for Barak's declared intention of bypassing this resolution by turning the agreement he wanted to sign with the Palestinians into "an agreed-upon interpretation of 242" (Sher, page 21). Shlomo Ben-Ami proposed making "the Clinton parameters," which he submitted in December, 2000, and which constitute a variation on Barak's proposals, a special Security Council resolution that would be defined as an accepted translation of 242 (Ben-Ami, page 345).

Again, Beilin is the only one of the three writers who comes out against this trickiness. He criticizes Barak's foolish attempt several months before the Camp David summit to stipulate that Resolution 242 does not apply to the border between Israel and the Palestinians. These statements, writes Beilin, were the match that almost ignited a conflagration on the ground: "Essentially, this statement served no purpose. The 1967 border was the point of reference at Camp David, in the Clinton plan and at Taba, and it is the basis for the border between the two states, and 242 is mentioned in the Oslo agreement as a basis for the resolution of the conflict. This [Barak's statement - A.K.] aggravated the distrust before and during the Camp David talks" (page 249).

Regarding distrust, in his book, Sher relates that Yossi Ginossar informed Barak about the bleak mood in the Palestinian delegation: "It's hard for them that you, Barak, are always dictating to them the technique, the summit itself and its timing, and the format of the talks. The American team is almost entirely Jewish and the Palestinians have no doubt as to our influence on the president" (page 194). And when Ginossar tries to move things forward and suggests to Barak that he meet with Arafat, he gets the following reply: "I will not meet with Arafat to discuss Jerusalem until he gives Palestinian agreement to the president's ideas" (page 195). A dictate embodied.

Barak took neither Yossi Sarid nor Yossi Beilin with him to Camp David. Some of the people he appointed to the delegation came from a different conceptual world.

"It sometimes seemed as though some of the Israeli team were aiming, just to be certain, to get a kashrut certificate from the Yesha [Judea and Samaria settlements] Council for any position we presented," writes Gilad Sher (page 185).

Clinton served as a mediator at the summit, but in full coordination with the Israelis. The presentation of the document containing his ideas, when it turned out that there was no progress in the negotiations, was a surprise, but not to the Israelis. At a meeting of the Israeli team at Barak's home in Kochav Yair about a month before the summit, Barak reveals the matter of the expected document, but prohibits talk about it: "Only at the summit, when it is convened, will it be possible to talk about the American document that might be submitted to the sides - under no circumstances before that" (Sher, page 120).

One of the recent revelations about Camp David confirms what Gilad Sher says and goes even further. Edward Walker, one of Albright's advisors, says in a rare interview to Al-Ayyam (November 3, 2001), which comes out in Ramallah, that the Americans at Camp David always consulted the Israelis before they made any proposal. He calls this conduct "strange."

At two points in the negotiations the Israelis evinced a lack of understanding and consideration of the feelings of the other side. The Palestinians were aware of the fears nurtured by Israeli propaganda about the 3.7 million refugees waiting, keys in hand, to return to their homes. Even before the summit, relates Beilin, Arafat met with Clinton and informed him that the solution of the refugee problem would be one that would take into account Israel's demographic concerns (page 106).

Sensitive issues

Sher, who, judging from his book is a careful and balanced individual, writes that the Palestinians "are not demanding the practical right of return to Israel - which, in my opinion, is not an element of their `core position'" (page 156). What Barak proposed was the return of 5,000 refugees "in one blow" or 10,000 over 10 years. "Generosity" is also a matter of geography.

The no less - or perhaps even more - sensitive issue of Jerusalem, because of its religious component, was dealt with irresponsibly at Camp David in a way that invited trouble, especially with respect to the Temple Mount/Haram Al-Sharif. The demand for Israeli sovereignty over the site and the allocation of a location for Jewish prayer there, which was immediately interpreted as a call to set up a synagogue in the mosque compound, and the hurtful proposal regarding the declaration of the town of Abu Dis as the capital of Palestine raised the level of despair and anger among Palestinians.

And thus, in the atmosphere of diplomatic stagnation and despair concerning the peace process, of the non-implementation of the third further redeployment, of the building of Jewish settlements and the paving of bypass roads and the confiscation of lands, of closures and a deepening economic crisis, of many hundreds of prisoners who had been waiting for years to be released under agreements that had been signed, of daily humiliations and a propaganda campaign in the West for the delegitimization of the Palestinian Authority and Arafat - the "ploys" concerning Jerusalem were like a burning fuse attached to a barrel of dynamite.

And then came the "mother" of all provocations: Ariel Sharon's visit to the mosque compound on the Temple Mount in September, 2000. Security sources warned that a visit by Sharon, with all he represents to the inhabitants of the territories, would ignite the Palestinian street. Arafat and the security forces called upon Barak not to permit the visit, but he closed his ears. The following day, after the Friday prayers, protests welled in Jerusalem and in other places in the territories. And here the second fatal mistake was made: the use of live ammunition against the young Palestinians. At the end of three days of stormy demonstrations, there were 28 Palestinians dead and about 500 wounded.

The Mitchell report, a paragon of balance and caution, states that the Sharon visit "was poorly timed and the provocative effect should have been foreseen; indeed it was foreseen by those who urged that the visit be prohibited." But no less interesting is what comes next: "More significant were the events that followed: the decision of the Israeli police on September 29 to use lethal means against the Palestinian demonstrators."

This is a clear indictment against the minister of public security at the time, Shlomo Ben-Ami. In his book, Ben-Ami says that Sharon's visit had no connection to the outbreak of the intifada, which was a strategic move by the Palestinian leadership. It was "a very quiet visit," he says, and only the following day did "they" begin to talk about it. "It is insufferable to use this visit as an excuse for the outbreak of violence. The visit was a legitimate act" (Ben-Ami, page 289).

The reader does not learn from this anything about the writer's responsibility, as the minister in charge of the police, for the bloody disturbances.

Sher is less definite. He believes that for many years, historians will still be dealing with the question of whether Sharon's visit was an excuse seized by Arafat, or whether it created a spontaneous surge of violence. He brings one quotation in support of the first assertion and another in support of the second, from my colleague, Danny Rubinstein, who wrote that: "Arafat was dragged into the conflagration that he did not want" (Sher, page 289).

Gilad Sher points an accusing finger at the senior police commander, and a critical finger at his colleague, the minister, "who this time failed to predict the miserable chain of escalation." He writes: "The picture of the Israeli policeman shooting at the Al-Aqsa Mosque - shooting that was not at all a necessity under the circumstances - ignited a conflagration and anger among millions of Muslims in the world."

And Beilin? He says that the visit to the mosque compound was a provocation, and notes that Barak refused to say, from the very first moment, that Sharon had caused the intifada - "even though no special intellectual effort is needed to understand that his visit on Thursday caused the intifada on Friday" (page 162).

Barak brought about his own downfall, and the way to his failure was paved with counterfeit "spin" that cynically exploited the existential fears of the average Israeli. With his policy, Barak paved the way for Sharon and vanished, leaving behind scorched earth, but his spin is for the most part alive and well. Therefore, publications by Americans who took part in the peace process (like Robert Malley) and books like the three reviewed here must inevitably contribute to puncturing it, thanks to the perspective of time and changing circumstances. The exposure of the emptiness of that spin is a necessary condition for clearing the air and a renewed attempt to get out of the mud we are in.

Amnon Kapeliouk is a journalist and a Middle East specialist. His book "Rabin: Un assassinat politique" was published by Sifriat Poalim.