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Ben-Ami’s Camp David Diaries – Part I

MEMRI Special Dispatch - Israel April 20, 2001 No. 207

Shlomo Ben-Ami was Israel’s top negotiator during the July
2000 Camp David summit. There has been much speculation
and analysis about the reasons for the summit’s failure.
However, first-hand accounts of what went on behind closed
doors have been limited. Ben-Ami, who is a history
professor and whose performance at Camp David advanced him
to the official post of Foreign Minister in Barak’s
government, wrote a detailed, day-by-day account of what
went on at Camp David. Following are excerpts from an
April 6, 2001 article in the Israeli daily Ma’ariv which
includes excerpts from Ben-Ami’s diary and an interview
with him:

July 13, 2000

“I told Barak that the American acceptance, for the first
time, of the principle that 80% of the settlers would
remain under Israel’s sovereignty, is an historic shift in
its position, since the US always insisted that settlements
are illegal and an obstacle to peace. I argued that this
summit would enter the pages of history as the event, which
legitimated the settlements, and Jewish Jerusalem as the
capital of the state of Israel. These are two values which
no one can take away from us …”

“On the same day I had a one-on-one meeting with Clinton
… the discussion revolved around the American bridging
proposal … Clinton told me that he was very angry with
the Palestinians for not coming up with substantive
proposals … all they did was listen while he was asking
them to move forward…. That night, Amnon (Lipkin-Shahak)
and I met with Muhammad Rashid (Arafat’s economic advisor)
and with Muhammad Dahlan (head of the Palestinian
Preventative Security Apparatus in Gaza). They claimed
that the senior leadership was backing away and dodging
responsibility. They developed an attitude of indifference
and a fear of taking responsibility. They made it clear
that they were the only ones who were willing to make tough
decisions and to work with us and with Arafat, namely: to
try to influence Arafat.”

July 14, 2000

“At 7:30 in the evening we had a meeting with President
Clinton…I presented the Israeli position. At a certain
point Sandi Berger lashed out at the Palestinians for being
unwilling to act according to Clinton’s request and create
the dynamics necessary for negotiations. I said something
along the lines of: ‘We gave you a territorial proposal and
you may reject it if you wish, but you have to reply with a
methodical counter proposal. We cannot accept a demand for
‘the 1967 borders’ and then discuss the agreement [all over
again]…. Clinton said that he accepts our position
regarding borders and our refusal to accept the principle
of returning to the 1967 borders. He commented on how the
issue of settlements here is very different than the one on
the Golan, and he emphasized the importance of including
80% of the settlers under Israel’s sovereignty.”

July 15, 2000

“… Today we had a work meeting between the two
negotiating teams – the Israeli team and the Palestinian
team…I presented our positions, maps etc., then Abu ‘Alaa
presented the Palestinian position. He talked in absolute
terms: the 1967 borders, international legitimacy etc.
Clinton sat in front of me. I could see how this red head
was fuming. Next thing I knew, Clinton lashed out at Abu
‘Alaa in a very degrading style. He yelled at him: ‘Sir,
this is not the [UN] Security Council, this is not the
General Assembly. You can give your lectures there, but
don’t waste my time. I have a lot at stake here as well.’
…Clinton blamed the Palestinians for not fulfilling the
promise he received from Arafat (to come up with practical
proposals). ‘A summit’s purpose,’ Clinton said, ‘is to
have discussions that are based on sincere intentions and
you, the Palestinians, did not come to this summit with
sincere intentions.’ Then he got up and left the room…”

July 24-25, 2001
Last night of the summit

“The negotiating teams had a night meeting with Clinton
from 9PM to 1PM…prior to the meeting I had a discussion
with Clinton. When I discussed the sanctity of the Temple
Mount, the president reacted with much enthusiasm: ‘not
only the Jews worldwide but the Christians support this
notion as well.”

“George Tenet (CIA Director) tried to persuade Arafat to
accept Clinton’s proposals. In Clinton’s presence I told
Saib Ereqat: ‘You are barely 4 million Muslim Palestinians
and pretend to represent one billion Muslims regarding the
Temple Mount. Clinton’s proposals are historic and you are
about to miss another opportunity’. I added that Arafat
placed the Muslim agenda before the national Palestinian
agenda. ‘Your national agenda is held hostage in the hands
of the Muslim agenda and you will pay a heavy price for
this…”

Interview with Ben-Ami

Q: “Is it true that the summit failed on the question of
Jerusalem?”
A: “…It would be a mistake to assign the summit’s failure
to the Jerusalem question alone. The Palestinians rejected
the entire Camp David package. From that point on, the
Palestinians had stopped displaying positive attitudes, and
Arafat felt that he could no longer utilize the
negotiations.”

Q: “Is Arafat to Blame?”
A: “Retrospectively, it is possible today to put things in
perspective, and it would be a mistake to get into that box
[of accusing Arafat for the failure]. [The failure was due
to] an element that is much more rudimentary and it relates
to the 1993 Oslo Agreement. When Arafat signed the Oslo
Agreement in 1993, his understanding was that he would
eventually get all of his demands. This is the whole story
in a nutshell. But no one bothered to give us the heads up
on this matter…why didn’t they tell us beforehand: ‘guys,
its worthless to go for a summit since for us its either
all or nothing’…my argument is that there is a problem
with a mythological Palestinian leader and leadership that
presupposes it has already made its concessions.”

“The interesting fact is that on that same night Clinton
told them ‘if you reject my proposal, at least offer your
own, since at that point in time – and this is the heart of
the matter – Arafat realized that the entire Camp David
deal, even if minor adjustments were made, is not congruent
with Palestinian mythology, and thus he did not think it
was worth while…”

Q: “Was Camp David a waste of time?”
A: “In my opinion, Camp David was a momentous achievement
for Israel, since it set the blueprint for any future
agreement between us and the Palestinians. Clinton
constructed his proposals based on this blueprint, and
Israel should not abandon it…Clinton’s proposals
guarantee the basic principles for a just agreement with
the Palestinians…they give us three blocks of
settlements, through the principle of land exchange, and
they recognize Jewish Jerusalem …the solution to the
refugee problem will be based on a solution for two
countries, whereby the right of return will be allowed only
into a Palestinian state and not into Israel.”

Q: “But there were reports claiming that we agreed to a
limited number of refugees into Israel proper. Some
reports were talking about us agreeing to the return of
100,000 refuges.”
A: “These reports were nothing but absolute lies. Never,
not during any stage or under any circumstance did we agree
to the return of refugees…”

Q: “Is it at all possible to discuss the likelihood of
[bilateral] negotiations?”
A: “Today, I come more and more to terms with the
realization that we cannot resolve our conflict with the
Palestinians by ourselves. It is true that we always
demanded direct negotiations, which was good during those
points in time. Today, after being exposed to the
Palestinian modes of operation I no longer see a chance
[for a bilateral solution]. I can not conceive of a point
in time in which Arafat will tell himself: ‘This is the
deal I got, I am not fully satisfied with it but I am going
to go with it.’ Such a point in time does not exist for the
PLO. Arafat is not a leader, he is a myth. A leader makes
decisions which sometimes devastate his constituency, and
he sometimes must pay the price with his own career. De
Gaulle was a leader. Arafat is not a leader who faces the
waves, but rather he is riding them…”

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