- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 11, 2001

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has outmaneuvered Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak. Mr. Arafat agreed to President Clinton's plan with a silent yes and a resounding no. While not rejecting the plan outright as he had last summer at Camp David, Mr. Arafat nevertheless insisted on clarifications, challenging the president on his proposals for Palestinian sovereignty over Temple Mount and right of return, and effectively annulling the plan.

To save his political skin and to throw the ball back into Mr. Arafat's court, Mr. Barak sent his negotiator, Gilead Sher, who uttered a silent no and a quiet yes. While he stated that an agreement cannot be achieved during the current administration, a diplomatic no, Mr. Sher hopes there will be a generalized statement by Mr. Clinton.

Mr. Barak is seriously considering a White House photo op celebrating a non-binding presidential declaration, to be attended by Mr. Arafat, Mr. Barak, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Jordan's King Abdullah, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and other world leaders. The purpose is to establish a legacy for President Clinton and to rescue the electorally sinking Mr. Barak.

In theory, the Clinton initiative is modest to provide the parties with agreed parameters on which they can resume negotiations. But the initiative is actually bold for several reasons. It is the first time that a U.S. president has specified what percent of the West Bank Israel should relinquish, who should have sovereignty where in Jerusalem and what the resolution of the Palestinian refugee problem should be.

In my view, this is an egregious violation of the 50-year relationship between Israel and the United States.

The president's Middle East experts have advised against pursuing this plan. However, he insists on his mission impossible, all in the name of legacy. It is disingenuous that the lame duck president in his last days of office and an Israeli prime minister who has resigned his office, whose attorney general challenges his moral and ethical mandate to make existential decisions for the future of Israel and whose chief of staff and head of Shin Bet are confused by his zigzagging, should impose a solution on the parties that is unacceptable to both.

Mr. Arafat has succeeded in putting the issue of right of return, formerly taboo, on the political and diplomatic map of Middle East negotiations. The 1993 agreement at Oslo clearly stated that only after Israelis and Palestinians are living in peace and cooperation would Israel be willing to consider compensation. In view of the last four months of terror and violence and the role that Arab citizens of Israel have played in the violence, no government of Israel can even consider the right of return. The Palestinian claim for the right of return is connected to U.N. General Assembly Resolution 194.

It is important to know this resolution states that refugees who wish to return to their homes and live in peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so. It is necessary to recall that the refugees are the complete responsibility of the Palestinian and Arab states, who in violation of the U.N. partition plan of 1947, which called for the establishment two states, went to war with the purpose of eliminating Israel.

Israel has no political, moral or ethical obligation to the refugees. This, in view of the fact that for more than 50 years the Arabs and Palestinians have kept the refugees in camps as a political and diplomatic instrument to charge Israel with the responsibility. The Palestinian refugees have always been a political and strategic, not humanitarian, interest of the Arab states and the Palestinians. In fact, there are 450,000 refugees in camps in Gaza. Not only has Mr. Arafat refused to integrate them into Palestine, but also has not given a penny of donor money to the refugees. Instead it goes for weapons.

Furthermore, the Palestinian Authority now has the audacity to demand $550 billion in compensation, according to some Israeli newspapers. This amount is one-third of Israel's gross domestic product.

The true meaning of the right of return is to de-Zionize the Jewish state with a flood of 3 million refugees. This is no longer the Arafat canard of a Jewish, Christian and Muslim state.

It is the Palestinization of the state of Israel. Despite the fact that Mr. Clinton's plan rejects the Palestinian interpretation of the right of return, in his meeting at the White House with Israeli and Palestinian delegations on Dec. 23, he proposed the following alternative: Both sides recognize the right of Palestinian refugees to return to "historic Palestine." Historic Palestine is a most dangerous term for the president to use. To Palestinians, it means that all of Palestine (which includes all of Israel) is theirs.

Maybe the president does not realize the importance of symbols in the Middle East. Historic Palestine is the raison d'etre of Palestinian independence.

Robert Satloff, director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, "It is a formula that would guarantee the maintenance of conflict."

It is also significant that, despite a three-time deception by Mr. Arafat to annul the Palestinian charter (the paragraph that calls for a military struggle against Israel is part of what remains of that charter, which was only partially annulled). Mr. Clinton and his advisers are aware of this chicanery and have failed to address it.

The Temple Mount is the Zion of Zion to the Jews. The chief rabbis of Israel insist on Israeli sovereignty over Jewish holy sites. Mr. Barak in his zigzaging also said that he would not accept Palestinian sovereignty over the Temple Mount. In Mr. Satloff's words, "Can a new president … disavow Clinton's view that the Haram al-Sharif (Temple Mount) should be under Palestinian sovereignty or that Israeli forces should have the right to deploy in the Jordan Valley during emergencies?

The Jan. 6 New York Times reported that the Bush camp was "increasingly anxious about what [it was] hearing about Mr. Clinton s proposals."

So am I.

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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