Notes from a Zionist Federation talk after the death of Yasser Arafat
The failure of the post-Camp David talks and the Six Day War
[Background (I think I skipped in my notes here things I already knew): In the summer of 2000, peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians were held in Camp David, but failed to reach agreement, the Palestinians complaining about being given a cantonised west bank. As the last months of Clinton's presidency drew towards a close, Clinton pushed hard for a peace deal, and in December Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak put an offer on the table that effectively gave in to all Palestinian demands: a Palestinian state consisting of the Gaza Strip plus 95% of the West Bank, plus land from within the Green Line (the 1949 cease-fire line accepted as the international border of Israel) giving the equivalent area of 98% of the West Bank.
The other Palestinian negotiators knew this was as good as they were ever going to get, and urged Arafat to accept it. He turned it down.]
By the start of 2001 the "Clinton Parameters" had been drawn up, including defining what is Jewish, and that Jerusalem remains Jewish, and what is Arab remains Arab. Both sides were given four days for a yes or no answer—a definitive answer, no maybe, or "we need more time."
The Saudi ambassador had told Arafat the night before he saw Clinton, "this is your last chance. If you take it and things go wrong the Arabs will be behind you. But if [you turn it down and] things go wrong there will be a war, and no one will be behind you. Do you understand this?" Arafat said yes.
Upon emerging from the talks, Arafat lied to the Saudi ambassador (who already knew what had happened from his inside sources) and said, "we have a deal." The Saudi ambassador told him as he went away, "if this goes wrong it will not be a tragedy, it will be a crime."
Arafat was hoping that with a new USAn president and the Israelis desperate for a deal he would get better terms. But of course it did not happen. But even if he had accepted, things would not have worked out. On the tenth of December Barak had resigned as Prime Minister of Israel, because he had completely lost his political majority—by then, he commanded just twenty seven seats of the 120 in the Knesset. And by the middle of December we knew George W. Bush would be in the White House. [huh? I didn't!] But even so.
Before the second intifada Israel would not have accepted the Clinton proposals; by December they had a chance. And had Barak lost the Israeli election, Arafat would have come out as the spurned peacemaker.
Most commentators say this [the possibility of a peace deal] was not actually the case. At the end of January the two sides met at Taba—closer to a real peace deal than ever before? No, not really. The time was up at Camp David. The reality is that there was an unbridgeable divide in the two sides' expectations.
But what this showed the Palestinians is that Israel could be dragged into more concessions. Arafat, in particular, felt humiliated by having to negotiate when Hizbollah had forced Israel to withdraw from Lebanon. But the catch is that though resort to violence resulted in more concessions in the short term term, it backfired in the long.
What caused Arafat to choose this ?pattern? It had its roots in [the Six Day War of] 1967. On the eleventh of November 1966, three Israeli soldiers died on a landmine laid by Fatah [a movement within Arafat's PLO] on the border. The Israelis decided this was too much and two days later sent paratroopers into the West Bank to target a Fatah-stronghold village. They encountered Jordanian troops when intelligence said they were not there.
King Hussein accused Nasser [the president of Egypt] of hiding behind the skirts of the UN. He retaliated by using the Soviets to spread lies allowing him to get the UN out of the Sinai [which presumably had been under UN supervision since the Suez War], and remilitarised it.
But the Israeli raid should not have happened. As soon as the Israeli soldiers died, King Hussein wrote a strongly-worded letter of condolence to the Israeli Prime Minister. Except that the telegram arrived from the US embassy in Amman at the US embassy in Tel Aviv on Friday afternoon—the eve of the Jewish sabbath—and as a result was not delivered.
But also <name missing> in late May sent 'planes to observe Dimona [an Israeli town, home to Israel's nuclear capacity] from the air. This was a signal to Egypt to preemptively wipe out the Israeli air defence forces. Only, two days before the war, Nasser got a knock on the door from the Soviet ambassador who had been informed of the situation by the White House, who had been informed of the situation by [Israeli Foreign Minister] Abba Eban. Forty-five minutes before the war, Nasser called it off because the superpowers don't want it to go nuclear.
But then the Israelis attacked preemptively themselves. The Israelis had written a letter [to the Jordanians] saying if you send as a few bombs it's okay, but if you attack us, it will be bad for you. But King Hussein to save his throne had put his army under the control of the Egyptians. And he eventually attacked because he is listening to Egyptian radio broadcasting success after success (all lies).
Jerusalem was not taken until the third day of the war. The religious Zionist ministers advised against taking the Old City. [Defence Minister] Moshe Dayan said "I do not need this other Vatican on my hands." So Israel contacted King Hussein saying "if you will agree to meet on the border to discuss, we will not take Jerusalem." But he did not.
After the war, Israel offered to return territories and put the West Bank under Palestinian control. But they turned the offer down [because it would mean recognising Israel, and Jerusalem as part of Israel].
So was history inevitable? There were many places where it would have been different for people to act otherwise. But even so, there were places where they could have.
[lethargic_man's comment: Well yes, but there were plenty of other points where things could have gone differently too. For example, if after the War of Independence in 1949 Jordan had set up a Palestinian state in the West Bank, according to the 1947 UN partition plan, rather than illegally occupying the West Bank, things might have turned out very different too.]