Leaders took a smaller step than expected on the path to peace in the Middle East. U.S. officials Tuesday announced that President Clinton had declared an end to negotiations at Camp David between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. The talks plugged along for more than two weeks, often late into the night, but ended without a framework agreement on major points of contention: sovereignty over Jerusalem, which both sides claim as the religious and cultural seat of their nations; contested Israeli settlements that have been built since peace talks began almost a decade ago; and the fate of more than 3 million Palestinian refugees who want to return to the land that was annexed by Israel during the 1967 war.
Arafat and Barak returned home Tuesday, embattled by domestic pressures not to make further concessions in the talks. Both leaders are hungry for peace, but seem to be frozen by unfavorable opinion ratings among their people. "On three things we cannot make concessions," Barak told the press, in Hebrew, clearly focusing his sentiments on the audience he would soon be facing. "On the security of Israel, on the holiness of Israel and the unity of the nation."
But legacy-hungry Clinton emphasized that both sides had agreed not to take unilateral action -- such as the declaration of a Palestinian state on disputed territory -- and that both sides were still working to meet the Sept. 13 deadline for a permanent agreement. "I think they both remained committed to peace," Clinton said. "I think they will both find a way to get there if they don't let time slip away from them."
While many observers agree that the Camp David summit created progress in the talks, opinions are split over which side can or should budge on key points. Salon News gathered opinions on the impact of the summit from all sides of the debate.
Rabbi David Saperstein is director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism in Washington.
This is a bitter disappointment. I think Barak, like Rabin before him, saw clearly that every other option to a real peace is fraught with guaranteed disaster -- not only for Israel but for the Palestinians and other Arab countries as well. Israel's security and well-being depends on fashioning a stable and lasting peaceful relationship.
What stands in the way -- of creating a new order in which the children will no longer be facing the possibility of warfare and fighting each other, and in which there can be mutual economic development of the region, and where order and environmental concerns that affect all these countries can be resolved cooperatively -- is a compromise on Jerusalem. Until they are faced with the reality that it is compromise on Jerusalem that can make everything else that they dream about possible, there probably won't be compromise.
Sovereignty is an amorphous term here. Clearly the Israelis are not going to give back all of East Jerusalem. Clearly there are ways without giving back all of East Jerusalem in which Jerusalem could be the capital of a Palestinian state. There are ways to do that -- shared sovereignty, expanding the borders of Jerusalem to make certain areas available to Palestinians as part of Jerusalem. All of this is possible, but until the compromise is weighed against the profoundly important geopolitical economic realities of what peace can bring, there is not going to be an incentive to do it.
I think Barak, from the news reports that were leaked, clearly was prepared to move significantly in that direction, and apparently the Palestinians were not, and that is a great tragedy for the Palestinian people as well as for the people of Israel and the world. Towards the end, Barak was obviously prepared to be so flexible that, while he continued to enjoy the support of the Israeli people, he could not politically hold his whole coalition together. But he was confident, and he was right. The Israeli people would have backed him if he had come back with an agreement. To come so close to really making a breakthrough and to miss the opportunity is a major setback.
Clinton has been extraordinary in this. They never would have gotten together at all had it not been for Clinton and their trust and the trust of all sides of Clinton. They clearly would not have made as many breakthroughs as reports indicate were made on so many of the most tenacious issues that can be the foundation of a real peace agreement in the future. They would not have had the last six years of relative stability and cooperation here had it not been for Clinton.
Edward Djerejian is director of the Baker Institute at Rice University and a former U.S. ambassador to Israel and Syria.
They did substantial work on narrowing the issues, particularly on land and security and tackling the critically sensitive issue of the return of Palestinian refugees, which has somehow been overshadowed by the issue of Jerusalem. But the return of refugees is a very sensitive issue in these negotiations, with tremendous implications for the peoples in the region and the 3.6 million Palestinian refugees. There has been some progress on that and on the issue of Israeli settlements.
But on the issue of Jerusalem, the major difference was over the question of sovereignty, and whether there should be Palestinian sovereignty over East Jerusalem and Israeli sovereignty over West Jerusalem; some shared sovereignty on the old city, providing for free access to peoples of the three monotheistic religions; or whether there should be different arrangements for Jerusalem, including enlarged municipal borders, boundaries to the city, whereby various territorial accommodations would be made for the Palestinians and the Israelis.
All of this has been put on the table and discussed, which is an achievement in itself. What I was hoping for in this summit was that there would be a framework agreement that basically forged a consensus and agreement on the major issues, and that that framework agreement would be accompanied by real, tangible agreements on specific issues like borders, security settlements, refugees and, most likely, an agreement in principle on how to proceed on Jerusalem.
It was important for the president to play the role he did as an active mediator. Of course the U.S. could not want peace more than the parties do, but when the crunch time comes, and the issues have come to the point where you need an honest broker, the role of the president is absolutely essential.
It's significant that at the conclusion of the Camp David talks, the parties have agreed not to take any unilateral actions or steps on their own. Hopefully they'll live up to that so we're not faced with a crisis in the Middle East.
Allan Solomonow, director of the Middle East peace program at the American Friends Service Committee in San Francisco and a lecturer in Middle East peace studies at UC-Berkeley.
Camp David was unquestionably a critically important step in the peace process, one we will look back at recognizing its value as a juncture in the long and tedious road to peace. Alas, Camp David was at the wrong time and place.
From the outset, the Clinton administration was disinclined to tar its hands with the nitty-gritty head knocking needed to try to reconcile the seemingly irreconcilable stances of Palestinians and Israelis. The U.S. government defined its role as "a facilitator," prepared perhaps to step in only as requested and then only at points when both sides requested American guidance. Unsurprisingly, without any impetus to seriously engage in the negotiations, Palestinian and Israeli efforts slowed, and mutual contact diminished while anti-peace constituencies lobbied for stronger "red lines" curtailing negotiating options.
The negotiations ought to have been initiated shortly after the election of Israel Prime Minister Barak a year ago. Now, approaching the seventh anniversary of the Oslo Agreement, the negotiations appear to be a domestic American effort to shore up Clinton's foreign affairs legacy and keep the Democrats in power. The setting of Camp David played into that seemingly grandiose Clintonian vision of a triumph that would resonate in the history books.
Nonetheless, Camp David will be remembered as a vital first step in the "normalization" of the peace process. For the first time, Israelis and Palestinians abandoned the strictures of their "red lines" and grappled with such untouchable issues as sovereignty over Jerusalem, borders and refugees. Camp David has served notice to reluctant Palestinians and Israelis that peace is not possible until the rhetoric and rationalizations give way to what future generations will look back at as fair and just.
Jerusalem will continue to be the Rorschach test of Israel's ability to envision a secure future. If a formula is found to share Jerusalem, to provide for Palestinian sovereignty over Palestinian land as well as a Palestinian capital in Jerusalem, the new generation on both sides will heave a sigh of relief.
Judith Kipper is director of the Middle East Forum at the Council on Foreign Relations.
The summit ended; it did not collapse. I think that after two weeks of negotiating, everybody's tired and needs a break. There was no crisis in the talks. They made a lot of progress, but they have to continue. By the end of the year, I think they are likely to have an agreement, and [the Palestinians] will be able to declare a state that is one the United States will recognize. This is just one more moment in a long road toward peace, and history is not going to look back on this as anything special, except for the fact that there was no drama really attached to it except the spin, the press and the president's necessary departure to Okinawa.
Ironically, Barak is stronger going home without an agreement because he's given away nothing. And Arafat hasn't compromised too much.
Stephen Zunes is a professor of politics at the University of San Francisco.
The failure of the talks is a clear demonstration of President Clinton's lack of leadership. Unlike Jimmy Carter in the first Camp David summit back in 1978 between Israel and Egypt, he was not willing to press Israel to live up to its international obligation to withdraw from [...] territory seized in the 1967 war. The U.S. position, in fact, on Jerusalem under the Clinton administration has largely supported Israel's annexation of East Jerusalem, which the Carter administration, in a unanimous U.N. Security Council vote back in 1978, declared null and void. The same language was used regarding Iraq's annexation of Kuwait 12 years later.
There have been some criticisms in the media already that somehow the Palestinians were the intransigent ones. The Palestinian position, whatever you may think of the corrupt and autocratic Arafat regime, is actually far more consistent with international law and with U.N. Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, which the U.S. has long insisted should be the basis of negotiations.
As a result, the failure of the Clinton administration to pressure Israel to live up to its international obligations indicates that the U.S. is not interested in pursuing peace -- at least a peace consistent with international law.
For centuries, Jerusalem has been the commercial, administrative, education, medical and religious center of Palestinian life. To insist that the Palestinians give up sovereignty, or even partial sovereignty, is really asking too much. Now nobody's asking us to go back to the bad old days when we had barbed wire and sentry posts and Israelis and Palestinians couldn't get to the other side -- the way it was between 1948 and 1967. But clearly there could be some creative compromise, such as making it an international city, which is what was originally envisioned in the 1947 U.N. partition plan, or having some kind of shared sovereignty. Israel cannot have peace unless they are willing to share Jerusalem. The failure to press Israel to make reasonable compromises, I believe, will be very harmful to Israel in the long run.
Ali Abunimah is vice president of the Arab American Action Network and the author of the Web site "Ali Abunimah's Bitter Pill."
I've always found it odd that they're saying Jerusalem is the sticking point. For Palestinians, the other issues are at least as important as Jerusalem and certainly no easier. The issue most Palestinians would think of as just as difficult is the issue of the refugees. If Jerusalem is the sticking point, what does that mean? Does that mean that they've already solved the refugee problem?
As Christopher Hitchens always says, you have to listen to the dogs that don't bark. The fact that there has been silence on the refugee issue and all this focus on Jerusalem is making many Palestinians very suspicious and very worried. They're worried that the right of return, which is guaranteed to Palestinian refugees by U.N. resolutions, will be fudged or sold out or acknowledged only in a symbolic way and not actually be implemented. We know that Israel's position is very clear, that they will never accept more than a symbolic return of refugees. So unless Israel caves in, which would be a big news story, what it suggests is that the Palestinian side may have caved in or chosen not to make it an issue.
A lot of Palestinians will be relieved that the summit broke down -- many of us felt that no good could come out of it. The U.S. has traditionally been very supportive of Israel but not as supportive of Palestinian rights. The rest of the world has been kept out; and the negotiations have not been based on U.N. resolutions or on what's just or legal.
When I talk to people today, Palestinians in America and back home, there is a sense of relief on the one hand. Of course people are worried because they don't know what's going to happen next. But I think that the sense is things can't get that much worse if you're a Palestinian. Israeli settlement construction has continued throughout the so-called peace process, land confiscation has continued, the policies of closure which prevent Palestinians from moving freely around the country have continued. So people aren't feeling that there's a lot of positive things that have come out of nine years of negotiations.