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Ben-Ami’s Camp David Diaries – Part II

MEMRI Special Dispatch - Israel April 24, 2001 No. 209

Continued from Part I

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
13, 2001 article in the Israeli daily Maariv which includes
excerpts from Ben-Ami’s diary and an interview with him.
(On April 6, 2001, the Israeli daily Ma’ariv published the
first of two articles providing Ben-Ami’s account. MEMRI
disseminated part one on April 20, 2001).

Ben-Ami: “Throughout the entire negotiation process, Arafat
has not even once explicitly demanded the return of
refugees into the borders of Israel. All he wanted is that
we get him out of this ‘trouble,’ he asked us to put
together some kind of a formula. He agreed, for instance,
to the principle that some of the refugees be relocated to
Canada and others to Australia…”

Q: “Did Abu ‘Alaa agree to this?”

A: “Of course he did. We began negotiating over numbers.
Later, Abu ‘Alaa went to meet Abu Mazen who prohibited him
from discussing refugee figures, and ordered him to leave
this issue open. To that, of course, we could not agree…”

“Concluding from this, and from other events, Ben Ami does
not think that Arafat is the man Israel will be able to
conclude peace with.”

“‘The root of the problem,'” Ben-Ami says, “‘is that in
Oslo we negotiated with the leader of the Palestinian
people and not with the leader of the [Palestinian
population in the] territories. Do you know who was the
first to understand this concept? It was King Hassan of
Morocco. In January of 1993 I met him. At that time I was
not in any official role. King Hassan told me he contacted
Abu Mazzen and told him: ‘The Israelis will never negotiate
with the PLO. Stop putting pressure on the population of
the territories and let those who truly suffer from the
occupation negotiate with Israel””…

“Today, Ben-Ami has a clear and sober understanding
regarding the only possible solution to the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and how to achieve it. On
the one hand, this solution must be based on Clinton’s
proposals – as he presented them at Camp David – for a
permanent agreement. On the other hand, this solution must
be given an international cloak, maybe even have the UN
Security Council’s stamp of approval.”

“…Ben-Ami rejects Sharon’s alternative to a permanent
agreement: long term interim agreements. ‘An interim
agreement is based on the assumption that we are unwilling
to pay the heavy price and that, ostensibly, we don’t have
a partner for a permanent agreement. The situation in the
territories today is the reason I don’t see a chance for
[an interim agreement to be successful].”

“A long term interim agreement is based on the philosophy
that we will get security in exchange for territory. But
Arafat has already past this stage, and now he wants
everything. This very concept collapsed in front of our
eyes. An interim agreement would leave three issues open:
Jerusalem, refugees and borders. As long as these issues
are not resolved, Arafat will do everything in his power in
order to shape the permanent agreement. He will continue to
violate agreements, and the world will be complacent, since
the West accepts the legitimacy of agreements being
violated by the occupied. As long as the Palestinian
Authority is not a state, it will not be obliged to play by
the rules of the international game which demand the
honoring of agreements. Thus, I argue that an interim
agreement will not be able to create the essential
transformation necessary for good neighborly relations with
Israel.”

Q: “So what is the solution?”

A: “Since I don’t see a chance in negotiations that would
take place only between us and the Palestinians, the
solution is a formula similar to the one presented in the
Madrid conference – an international framework based on
Clinton’s proposals and acceptable to both sides. Since we
both accepted these proposals (with some reservations), we
need to work with the international community and clarify
that Israel will not backpedal from the proposals. This is
our line of defense…”

“Ben-Ami believes that the real meaning of an
‘international envelope’ to the resolution of the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict is for pressure to be applied
on Arafat and not Israel. ‘The current Israeli government
received from us an entry pass into the international
community. This entry pass says: ‘the debate over whether
Israel is ready for peace or not is over’. Now that Israel
has proven that which needed to be proven, the role of the
international envelope is to tell Arafat: ‘you have no
escape routes left.'”

“But even the former Foreign Minister is not deluding
himself in thinking that it would be possible to reach such
an international agreement based on Clinton’s proposals.
‘We will be able to start the construction work only
following an explosion. We will be able to get to this
when everyone realizes that they only have something to
lose from the continuation of the current state of affairs.”

Q: “Including a regional war?”

A: “Yes. Or following a serious deterioration of the
current situation. Nations and leaders arrive at the right
decisions only after examining other all possibilities…”

Q: “What you are actually saying is that there is no chance
for an interim agreement but only for a permanent agreement
in the framework of an international envelope, and that
such envelope will be available only following an immense
explosion.”

A: “That is exactly right. This could possibly look
different had the current [American] administration
continued where Clinton left of, but they repealed
Clinton’s proposals and had not offered an alternative.
This was an irresponsible thing to do. Today, the Middle
East is in a very dangerous situation. There is no Oslo
and there is no alternative for Oslo. This has produced a
very dangerous vacuum here.”

Q: “Throughout the negotiation process, did you ever get
the sense that Arafat prefers joining his forefathers’
rather than signing an agreement that is less than every
single one of his demands?”

A: “Absolutely yes…”

[The interviewer asked Ben-Ami whether it is still feasible
to search for a peace agreement with Arafat]

Ben Ami: “…I certainly believe that Arafat is a problem
if what we are trying to achieve is a permanent agreement.
I doubt that it will be possible to reach an agreement with
him. The dilemma King Hassan pointed out to me in 1993 is
still the central thorn in the peace process today. Will
the young Palestinian generation, the one who matured in
the different Intifadas, be the one to shape the future
dynamics and will he truly think in realistic terms of
establishing a Palestinian state in Judea, Samaria and
Gaza, leaving peacefully side by side with Israel.”

“At Camp David I wrote to my self: ‘we witness here a
battle of the Palestinian generations. The older
generation is disconnected – it knew what it wanted, but it
also realized it was not getting there. The young
Palestinian generation at Camp David tried to be pragmatic
but it did not have enough legitimacy. The tension between
the two generations was obvious.”

Q: “Do you think an agreement could be reached if the young
Palestinian generation had legitimacy?”

A: “Yes. I have no doubt. But let’s not delude ourselves,
it all starts and ends with Arafat. They don’t know what
he wants. They can only guess. Autocracy has two
characteristics. One is that the ruled never know what is
on the leader’s mind. The other is that the ruled never
tell the leader the truth because they fear him…”

A: “And what if something were to happen to Arafat?”

Q: “It is true that the Palestinian society is experiencing
an unrest, but I caution us from the illusion that all of
the mythical obstacles will disappear during the sharp
shift from Arafat to a post-Arafat reality. A continuity
will be necessary for a legitimacy to exist [in any future
Palestinian leadership]. Those who wish to succeed Arafat
will have to establish their position based on them being
successors…”

“I know what little support Arafat has in the Persian Gulf
and that they had it with him. [Egyptian President Hosni]
Mubarak told me once that his grandson hates Arafat,
precisely because they meet frequently. We know that the
regional Arab leadership is not suffering from excess love
for Arafat, but they must find a solution for the
Palestinian problem. The Arab world is not holding Arafat
hostage, it is the other way around. Arafat is the key for
regional stability.”

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