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The Last Deal, Or No Deal

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If Camp David produces a halfway settlement, it will be a disaster

July 10, 2000
Web posted at: 4:45 p.m. EDT (2045 GMT)

How will we know if the high-stakes, roll-of-the-dice Israeli-Palestinian summit called by President Clinton has succeeded? There is only one criterion for success: finality. Whatever document emerges, it must contain words like these: "The parties agree that the century-old conflict between the Jews and Arabs of Palestine is over."

That one declaration would be of far greater import than any of the parameters of any settlement. On finality hinges everything.

No more punting, no more blurring. Deferring has been the norm for the past seven years. And after seven years, the region is on the verge of a violent eruption. Both Palestinians and Israelis are quietly preparing for war. What comes out of Camp David must be the last Israeli-Palestinian agreement, or it will be failure.

We know this from the bitter experience of the Oslo accords. They were to be interim, preparatory. At the time, after the Gulf War, the P.L.O. was ostracized, exiled and broke. It was dying. Yitzhak Rabin revived it in order to produce an interlocutor for peace. But he did not go for a final agreement with Yasser Arafat. He decided to leave all the tough issues--Jerusalem, statehood, final borders, refugees--for later.

With Oslo, Israel brought the P.L.O. out of exile and gave it international recognition. It then ceded Arafat nearly half the occupied territories, gave him sovereignty over 99% of the Palestinian population, and allowed him to build a 40,000-man army--not in Tunis, but at the very gates of Tel Aviv. In return the Palestinians promised one thing: an end to violence.

Hence the euphoria at the Great Handshake on the White House lawn. The sentimentalists in the audience, tears in their eyes, thought they had witnessed the end of the conflict. They were hopelessly, delusionally wrong. Yes, the daily stone throwing of the intifadeh stopped. But the threat of violence was always kept in reserve. Indeed, it escalated. Arafat now had at his disposal not just kids with rocks but 40,000 men with guns. The threat was--is--not just rioting but war.

At every breakdown in negotiations, Arafat would speak of the possibility of a Palestinian "explosion." When politically convenient--as during the "days of rage" last May that left five dead--the explosion would occur, either allowed or encouraged by the Palestinian authorities.

The P.L.O., said an official just last week, expects its planned unilateral declaration of independence to create a confrontation with Israel. Imad Falouji, a member of the Palestinian Authority, called for the terrorist groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad to join in the "final battle with Israel." Other Palestinians have talked about mass marches on Israeli settlements--a prescription for violence.

An agreement at Camp David in which the Palestinians renew their renunciation of violence would be as meaningless as the one in '93. As a former U.S. ambassador to Israel once said to me, What do you expect? Violence is the one means they have to redress their grievances.

Hence the sine qua non for peace: a Palestinian declaration to the world that the new accommodation signed at Camp David satisfies--and ends--the Palestinian grievance.

Ehud Barak is prepared to go to extraordinary lengths to do just that. He is ready to give the Palestinians virtually all of the West Bank, to surrender a large measure of control over Jerusalem, and to recognize a Palestinian state bordering Jordan and Egypt (which means that the perennial Israeli demand for a demilitarized Palestinian state evaporates: it will be impossible to monitor the inflow of weapons into Palestine).

Yet Arafat resisted the summit precisely because he resists finality. His strategy has always been to keep the conflict open. Why? Because when the conflict ends, his people must be satisfied with half a loaf. And while Israeli leaders have long prepared their people for serious concessions, Arafat has not. He has not moderated his demands one iota in seven years. Indeed, he keeps inflaming his people with visions of a return to all of Palestine--including Israel.

Putting an end to the conflict once and for all is Israel's objective. But not just Israel's. It is America's too. The U.S. has no great stake in the territorial details of any settlement. It has an enormous stake, however, in an end to war in the region.

Camp David cannot be allowed to produce yet another interim solution, another "declaration of principles" that leaves unresolved such incendiary issues as Jerusalem or refugees. Whatever grievances remain unresolved, whatever claims remain unrenounced are guaranteed to bring out the stone throwers. Then the machine gunners. Then the tanks. And then the neighboring Arab states, including Egypt, into battle in solidarity with the new Palestinian state. There can be no greater failure than that.


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Cover Date: July 17, 2000

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