The Last Deal, Or No Deal
If Camp David produces a halfway settlement, it will be a
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
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
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
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
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
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