- The Washington Times - Monday, July 10, 2000

President Clinton invited Prime Minister Ehud Barak and PLO Chairman Yassar Arafat to meet at Camp David for a summit to begin tomorrow. The president hopes to help the parties, who have distanced from one another recently, to frame a peace agreement to be made final by Sept. 13. The Palestinian Authority grudgingly accepted the U.S. invitation.

According to the Israeli press, all of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's advisers, from his top ranking aides to the middle-level negotiating team members, urged their chairman not to go. But Mr. Arafat is not Hafez Assad. He cannot decline an American invitation.

In 1998, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to persuade Mr. Clinton to convene a summit. Mr. Netanyahu was correct in trying to skip the treacherous stages designed by Oslo in 1993.

The Rabin strategy of step-by-step negotiations has failed. Many Israeli and Palestinian lives would have been spared if Mr. Clinton had accepted Mr. Netanyahu's strategic proposal. At the time, Mr. Clinton was conducting a cold war against Mr. Netanyahu and was inclined toward Mr. Arafat, who refused the idea of a summit. Now Mr. Clinton has accepted the inevitable. No Israeli-Palestinian negotiations can be conducted without objective and dynamic American participation.

Camp David symbolizes a style, a purpose, and above all success. Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat were carried along by President Carter Begin more than Sadat. There was, however, a fundamental difference for Israel when negotiating with Egypt, the most significant Arab country. Territorial concessions were made for the Sinai, an area not claimed by any Jewish group and where there was no question of Egypt's sovereignty.

The case of Israel and Palestine is dramatically different not only because Israel is not negotiating with a sovereign state, but also because a decision to be made at a summit or elsewhere will be existential for Israel for generations to come.

When Egypt and Israel signed the peace treaty at the White House in March 1979, it was clear that Sadat's declaration of "no more war" was the essence of the understanding. Since 1979, the Israeli-Egyptian border has been quiet. This is not true with the Palestinians.

The Palestinians threaten to declare an independent Palestine state whether an agreement is achieved or not, either in a summit or in final status negotiations. In other words, Mr. Arafat and his advisers are coming to Washington in a belligerent mood with an option to revive the confrontation with Israel.

Before leaving, Mr. Arafat ordered his men to begin preparation for a wide-scale confrontation with Israel. He called for a plan to conduct waves of violent demonstrations without shooting. It is quite clear the Palestinian police are an army. They conduct military-style exercises, and they are ready for war. Israeli Defense Force Chief of Staff Shaul Mofaz spoke of the possible use of tanks and helicopters to quell Palestinian violence. Several IDF generals have recently referred to the possibility of a limited war, and a large IDF exercise, Operation Forward Gear, was conducted in March. To which Mahmoud Dahalan, chief of security for Gaza, declared on Israeli television, "The tanks are welcome."

The Barak government is shrinking by the day. Interior Minister Nathan Sharansky's Russian immigrant party is threatening to resign, if it has not already, and the National Religious Party will resign if concessions are made on Jerusalem at Camp David. This will also be true of several members of the more moderate Shas Party.

Mr. Barak's own One Israel Party is divided. Two of his dovish ministers, Public Security Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami and Justice Minister Yossi Beilin, have made generous concessions to the Palestinians on the villages around Jerusalem, which Foreign Minister David Levy opposes.

There is a national consensus on peace with the Palestinians and Israeli acceptance of a peaceful Palestinian state. There is no consensus on the conflicting details leaked from the Israeli government on the nature of the concessions, especially connected with Jerusalem and the percentage of territory to be returned to the Palestine state.

The PLO expects a clash over the unilateral declaration of a state. They demand to realize sovereignty over Jerusalem and return of all the territories to the June 4, 1967, borders. This is a radical change from the Rabin-Arafat agreement that resulted from Oslo in 1993. No Palestinians at that time expected a return of more than 60 percent of the West Bank. In fact, it was not an issue.

This was the essence of Mr. Arafat's deceptive strategy: First, you get international recognition by no less than an Israeli prime minister and an American president, and then you wait for the last moment to reveal your maximalist demands.

The Palestinians were falsely emboldened by the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon and by Mr. Barak's far-reaching concessions to Assad, which did not work. And now Mr. Arafat has opted for the Camp David model, which will derail the Oslo principles.

A unilateral Palestinian declaration of statehood guarantees a limited war. Mr. Arafat is correctly convinced that the Arabs, the Third World, and the European Union now under the French presidency of Jacques Chirac, will support the declaration. But two crucial states will not support the declaration the United States and Israel.

The dovish Mr. Beilin made it clear that a Palestinian state that is declared unilaterally is worthless. Without Israel's acceptance of a Palestinian state, it will not be viable.

Last but not least, if the summit fails all bets are off and Mr. Barak will establish a national unity government with the Likud Party.

The Palestinians speak of re-enacting the Karameh Spirit, which represents the battle of 1968 that catapulted Mr. Arafat and the PLO to the status of a guerrilla force. Some even argue they prefer to declare a Palestine state in blood and fire rather than by diplomacy that represents an Israeli silver platter.

Even if the summit succeeds, Palestinian maximalist demands will not be fulfilled. The battle will rage over Jerusalem, Israeli settlements, refugees, and borders. Unlike the first Camp David, the Palestinians are not ready to declare an end to the conflict.



Amos Perlmutter is a professor of political science and sociology at American University and editor of the Journal of Strategic Studies.

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