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Camp David 2000

The History

The Critics

The Lie

One important goal of Palestinian disinformation is the rewriting of history. By saying often enough that things happened one way when they really happened another, one turns history into a propaganda tool.

Currently the revisionist historians have two favorite targets. One is the war of 1948. Immediately after the state of Israel was formed, five Arab armies invaded, waging an offensive to kill the new state at its birth - yet this is now being spun as an Israeli war of aggression. The purpose for this is clear: it is to undermine Israel's legitimacy by planting doubts about how it came into being.

This particular falsification of history has met with some success. The Presbyterian Church has picked it up in its new "Resource Sheets" on the Israel/Palestine conflict:

The United Nations proposed a partition plan in 1947 to divide the mandated territory into two states, one Jewish and one Arab.... Violence broke out between Jewish and Palestinian forces.

On May 14, 1948, the State of Israel was proclaimed. The armies of five Arab nations intervened in the violence between Jews and Palestinians.(1)

This way of presenting the story makes it sound like five Arab armies with good intentions "intervened" to stop violence that "broke out" amidst the indigenous population. What really happened was not an "intervention"; it was a war. This is apparent to anyone who studies the historical record. Here are only two relevant quotes from the period:

"This will be a war of extermination and a momentous massacre which will be spoken of like the Mongolian massacres and the Crusades." (General Azzam Pasha, Arab League Secretary)

"I declare a holy war, my Muslim brothers! Murder the Jews! Murder them all!" (Haj Amin al-Husseini, Grand Mufti of Jerusalem) (2)

The war of 1948 is only one focal point of the Palestinian effort to turn history on its head. Another important one is the Camp David negotiations of 2000. It is commonly known that Yasser Arafat turned down a well-considered offer proposed by President Clinton and accepted by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak that would have created a Palestinian state. Instead of making any counter-proposal, the Palestinians launched a wave of violence that grew into a bloody terrorist war lasting now almost five years.

The great lie - The revisionist version of events - is that Arafat was justified in rejecting the proposal because it would have left him with an unviable state of disconnected "cantons" or "bantustans." This distortion of history has become a popular myth, repeated by many Palestinian sources and on many pro-Palestinian web sites. It exists today on the FAQ of the PLO Negotiations Affairs Department:

Why did the Palestinians reject the Camp David Peace Proposal?

For a true and lasting peace between the Israeli and Palestinian peoples, there must be two viable and independent states living as equal neighbors. Israel's Camp David proposal, which was never set forth in writing, denied the Palestinian state viability and independence by dividing Palestinian territory into four separate cantons entirely surrounded, and therefore controlled, by Israel.(3)

As will soon be demonstrated, this statement falsifies history. The reason for the falsification is clear: it is to hold the Palestinians blameless for the terrorist violence that has brutalized the Israeli civilian population over the past several years. Many of those who promote this idea would like people to believe that the Palestinians had no choice but to resort to violence, having exhausted negotiations as an option.

The Camp David Summit: What Actually Happened

The Camp David Summit took place on July 11-25, 2000. In attendance were U.S. President Clinton, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, Yasser Arafat, and their negotiating teams. The summit failed to bring the two sides to agreement. What happened at the summit remains the subject of controversy.

It is important to clarify at the outset that the Camp David process did not end at Camp David. More than just a place, "Camp David 2000" refers to the "final status negotiations" that were supposed to have concluded the Oslo peace process. These negotiations began at Camp David and produced a number of concessions that the Palestinians rejected. The negotiations continued, however, and culminated in Washington, December 2000, in a set of recommendations the Clinton team put together that was felt best to meet the needs of both sides. Israel accepted the plan in principle, the Palestinians did not. In January 2001 there was a final meeting in Taba, Egypt, but it failed to produce any breakthroughs. The truly significant offer was that of December and is known as the "Clinton Ideas" or the "Clinton Parameters." This peace offer is the one by which the entire process should be judged.

Recounting the details of the negotiations is beyond the scope of this article. Our purpose here is to boil a very complicated sequence of events down to its essentials; the cited material fills in the details for those who wish to explore further. I will be relying heavily on the account of Dennis Ross(4), who was the head of the U.S. negotiating team and an active participant from start to finish. Ross's account of the negotiations is the most thorough and reliable one available. This presentation will depend not only on Ross, but also on supporting documents from other sources. I am indebted also to Arthur Bierman,(5) who has collected and analyzed a number of invaluable citations from original Palestinian, Israeli, and American sources.

Readers interested in understanding just the basic outline of events may stop with this section. However, I am aware that Ross has his critics. Subsequent sections of this article examine these critics. The critics themselves need and deserve critical evaluation.

The first two days of negotiations at Camp David yielded little movement. By the third day the Americans, in consultation with both sides, produced a "draft framework agreement." Originally intended to approximate what an eventual agreement might look like, as it evolved it incorporated the different Israeli and Palestinian views (designated "I" and "P"). Neither side was happy with the paper as it stood, so subsequent revisions were made.

The discussions continued. On the fifth day the Israelis presented a map that showed a Palestinian state on 87-88% of the West Bank. The Palestinians rejected this proposal, but refused to offer a map of their own.

The Palestinians exploited this offer - an early, preliminary one - and have since characterized it as "the" offer they rejected at Camp David because it would have sliced the Palestinian state into several "cantons." The PLO Negotiations Affairs Department has misrepresented the map as offering only 83%, with cantons that were not originally specified. To this day the Palestinians present this supposed offer as the reason they could not say yes to Camp David and why the process failed.(6) They continue to claim that "Israel's proposal divided Palestine into four separate cantons surrounded by Israel: the Northern West Bank, the Central West Bank, the Southern West Bank and Gaza."(7) (At times the Palestinians have admitted the existence of a 95% offer, still claiming it would have resulted in cantons - an incredible assertion considering that in order to portray cantons the Palestinians had to distort even the early 88% offer to only 83%.)

The truth is that an early Israeli proposal might have been construed to specify cantons, but was far from the final proposal Israel made. However, this is the only Camp David map the Palestinians display, which constitutes a clear and blatant misrepresentation of what Israel actually offered. (One might very reasonably ask: If it was so obvious the final Israeli offer deserved rejection, then why the need to distort it?)

As negotiations progressed, the Palestinians would bargain in a manner the Israelis found troublesome. Instead of presenting proposals of their own in response to what the Israelis offered, the Palestinians, especially Arafat, would hang back and wait for Israel to make successively better offers. To be sure, the Israelis engaged in their share of foot-dragging and attempts at manipulation, par for the course in any complex negotiations. Nevertheless, the Palestinians' pattern emerged as a distinctive and consistent strategy. They would pocket Israeli concessions, wait a while, then use those concessions as a new point of departure without having produced any counter-offer. Or they might just belittle the Israeli concession and, without offering anything in return, demand the Israelis come up with something more "reasonable." In effect, they had the Israelis negotiating against themselves. Even Robert Malley, an apologist for the Palestinians, admitted these Palestinian methods and gave them a descriptive name: "Palestinian salami tactics."(8)

Discussions proceeded with the two sides unable to come together. The Palestinian negotiators indicated a willingness to make some limited concessions: conceding the Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem to Israel, accepting the possibility of modifying the 1967 border, considering some limitations on the implementation of the right of return (although they would not give up this right in principle), and the acceptance of early warning stations in the Jordan Valley. Arafat, however, never confirmed any of these concessions.(9)

On the eighth day of the summit Clinton and Barak had an important meeting in which were formed the essentials of Israel's offer. Barak was prepared to offer a contiguous Palestinian state (meaning no cantons) on Gaza and 92% of the West Bank (a 9% annexation with a 1% swap), Palestinian control of 85% of the border with Jordan with an Israeli security presence on the remaining 15%, Palestinian sovereignty over the Muslim and Christian quarters in Old Jerusalem, shared control of the rest of the city based on demographics, custodianship of the Haram ash-Sharif (Temple Mount), and further provisions on security and refugees to be more clearly defined later. The Palestinian team rejected this package. They wanted certain clarifications, but their strongest objection was to the provision on the Haram: the Palestinians did not want custodianship; they wanted full sovereignty.

The Haram, however, became the loose thread that unraveled the entire fabric. Barak intended his proposals as a final offer, but the Palestinians, dissatisfied with lack of sovereignty over the Haram, wanted to renegotiate the entire package, using Barak's version as a new starting point (the "salami tactic" once again). This move threatened to break down the entire summit. Negotiations did continue, and on the final day Clinton met with Arafat and presented the basic ideas he had worked out with Barak. These included some modifications in the Palestinians' direction and suggested compromises on the Haram. Arafat categorically rejected them, bringing the summit to a disappointing conclusion.

The negotiators did not want to give up, and so on that last night President Clinton, Saeb Erakat representing the Palestinians, and Shlomo Ben-Ami representing Israel met one last time. They considered a number of ways the differences could be resolved. The meeting lasted nearly three hours, and the results presented to Arafat. He refused to accept them.

As Dennis Ross was to say later on,

The last night, there was a two-and-a-half hour session at the very end that involved the President, myself, Shlomo Ben-Ami and Saeb Erakat, where we tried out a series of different ideas. What came through pretty clearly from the Palestinian side was it did not matter what we tried out, they were not going to give an answer, not this time around.(10)

The summit at Camp David ended without an agreement. But it was not to be the last word: negotiations would continue. Nevertheless, it is clear that the Palestinians rejected an offer for a contiguous state on 92% of the West Bank. It was not the best offer they were to receive; nevertheless, contrary to official Palestinian statements, it was not a state sliced up into cantons.(11) Unlike Barak, who put forward far-reaching concessions and went as far as he believed he could go at the time, Arafat advanced no original ideas, did not support the few concessions his negotiators were willing to make, and virtually confined himself to rejecting every proposal that was made. The one original idea he did express was to insist that "Solomon's Temple was not in Jerusalem, but Nablus"(12) - an insulting Palestinian myth intended to deny the legitimacy of any Jewish claim to Jerusalem.

As Israeli negotiator Shlomo Ben-Ami said later in an interview:

Camp David collapsed over the fact that they [the Palestinians] refused to get into the game. They refused to make a counterproposal. No one demanded that they give a positive response to that particular proposal of Clinton's. Contrary to all the nonsense spouted by the knights of the left, there was no ultimatum. What was being asked of the Palestinians was far more elementary: that they put forward, at least once, their own counterproposal. That they not just say all the time "That's not good enough" and wait for us to make more concessions....

But when all is said and done, Camp David failed because Arafat refused to put forward proposals of his own and didn't succeed in conveying to us the feeling that at some point his demands would have an end.(13)

After the Summit

During the weeks following the Camp David Summit diplomatic activity continued. Negotiators met in New York before and after the United Nations Millennium Summit in September. Another round of discussions took place in Washington later that month.

The Washington discussions began on September 26, and it seemed that progress was being made. Then on September 28, Ariel Sharon visited the Temple Mount. On the following day Palestinians erupted in violent demonstrations. The new intifada had begun.

Palestinian propaganda still blames the violence on Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount, but ample evidence exists revealing that the violence had been planned in advance. On Friday September 29, worshipers at Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa Mosque heard the following words:

It is not a mistake that the Koran warns us of the hatred of the Jews and put them at the top of the list of the enemies of Islam. Today the Jews recruit the world against the Muslims and use all kinds of weapons. They are plundering the dearest place to the Muslims, after Mecca and Medina and threaten the place the Muslims have faced at first when they prayed and the third holiest city after Mecca and Medina. They want to erect their temple on that place.... The Muslims are ready to sacrifice their lives and blood to protect the Islamic nature of Jerusalem and El Aksa!

- Sheikh Hian Al-Adrisi, Excerpt of address in the al-Aksa mosque (September 29, 2000)(14)

Palestinian youths emerged from that service and attacked Israeli police, then heaved stones down on Jews praying at the Western Wall.(15) The Palestinian Authority itself was complicit in the violence:

In addition, official Palestinian Authority media exhorted the Palestinians to violence. On September 29, the Voice of Palestine, the PA's official radio station sent out calls "to all Palestinians to come and defend the al-Aksa mosque." The PA closed its schools and bused Palestinian students to the Temple Mount to participate in the organized riots.(16)

Unaware of these Palestinian plans, Israeli authorities did not cancel Sharon's visit. They did not consider it a security threat. In fact, Israeli Minister of Security Shlomo Ben-Ami consulted with Palestinian Security Chief Jibril Rajoub, who told Ben-Ami that he did not expect any violence as long as Sharon did not attempt to enter any of the mosques. Sharon did keep his distance from the mosques, but violence ensued anyway.(17)

United States Secretary of State Madeleine Albright called Arafat and asked him to intervene to stop the violence. Arafat made no effort to do so. This was particularly unfortunate since the talks seemed to be making some progress.(18) Not only did Arafat refuse to call for the violence to stop, the Palestinian Authority demonstrated further complicity by releasing dozens of convicted terrorists from prison right after it began - hardly a sign of good faith in the midst of sensitive negotiations.(19)

Subsequent talks took place in Paris and in Sharm al-Sheikh. At Sharm Arafat promised to take steps to end the violence, but he did not keep his promise.(20) Later in a meeting with Arafat in Rabat, Morocco, Ross presented the essence of what was soon to become known as the "Clinton Parameters." Arafat indicated he might be able to make a deal. Ross had his doubts, but took Arafat at his word. Hoping for Saudi backing, Ross met in London with Saudi Prince Bandar ibn Sultan and informed him of the plan. Prince Bandar replied: "If Arafat does not accept what is available now, it won't be a tragedy, it will be a crime."(21)

The Clinton Parameters

And so a final round of talks between the principals was scheduled for mid-December in Washington. On December 23 President Clinton presented his paramaters, which outlined the shape of a final settlement:

One thing is very clear: the Clinton Parameters call for a single, contiguous Palestinian state, and not one carved up into isolated cantons.

What were the reactions of each side? Essentially, Israel accepted the parameters, the Palestinians rejected them. Here are the details.

On December 27, Barak's security cabinet met in Jerusalem and voted to accept the parameters, with some reservations. Ross states that the reservations were "within the parameters," and that the basic framework was accepted.(23)

Shlomo Ben-Ami has mentioned Israel's specific reservations. They had to do only with the clarification and implementation of certain details:

The proposal was difficult for us to accept. No one came out dancing and singing, and Ehud especially was perturbed. At the same time, three days later, the cabinet decided on a positive response to Clinton. All the ministers supported it, with the exception of Matan Vilnai and Ra'anan Cohen. I informed the Americans that Israel's answer was yes....

We sent the Americans a document of several pages containing our reservations. But as far as I recall, they were pretty minor and dealt mainly with security arrangements and deployment areas and control over the passages. There was also clarification concerning our sovereignty over the Temple Mount. There was no doubt that our reply was positive. In order to remove any doubts, I called Arafat on December 29, at Ehud's instructions, and told him that Israel accepted the parameters and that any further discussion should be only within the framework of the parameters and on how to implement them. (Emphasis added) (24)

The Palestinian reaction was very different. It was an equivocal "yes" that was in effect a resounding "no." Arafat met with Clinton on January 2, several days after the requested deadline, and presented the text of the official Palestinian response.(25) It states:

We wish to explain why the latest United States proposals, taken together and as presented without clarification, fail to satisfy the conditions required for a permanent peace.

The Palestinian response proceeds to reject virtually every provision of the Clinton Parameters:

The Palestinians were especially adamant about the right of return:

The essence of the right of return is choice: Palestinians should be given the option to choose where they wish to settle, including return to the homes from which they were driven. There is no historical precedent for a people abandoning their fundamental right to return to their homes whether they were forced to leave or fled in fear. We will not be the first people to do so. Recognition of the right of return and the provision of choice to refugees is a pre-requisite for the closure of the conflict. (emphasis added)

The Palestinians completely disregarded Israel's concern that a right of return of Palestinian refugees into Israel proper would spell the end of Israel as a Jewish state, and that the whole purpose of creating a Palestinian state was that the Palestinian state, and not Israel, should serve as the homeland for any displaced Palestinians - just as Israel became the homeland for Jews driven out of Arab lands.

The Palestinian reply goes into further detail about why every single provision of the plan is deemed unacceptable. The document is remarkable in its complete refusal to recognize any legitimate Israeli needs. Whatever the Palestinians may say now, it is clear that they soundly rejected the Clinton Parameters. Their response plainly says so in its concluding sentence:

We cannot, however, accept a proposal that secures neither the establishment of a viable Palestinian state nor the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes.

With the Palestinian refusal of the Clinton Parameters the Oslo peace process essentially came to an end.

The Clinton presidency was over. Right after Bush took office, the negotiators met in Taba, Egypt for a final round of discussions. But it was too little too late.

The Taba Conference

There was no real hope of reaching an agreement at Taba. The purpose of Taba, from the Israeli side, was to establish a set of guidelines based on the Clinton Ideas that would constrain the incoming Likud government. From the Palestinian side, the purpose was to interest the Bush Administration in the Clinton Ideas and to use those ideas as a new departure point from which to gain further concessions from Israel.(27)

On January 20, 2001, at the opening plenary session of the Taba Conference, Ahmed Qurei (Abu Ala), one of the key Palestinian negotiators at Camp David, reaffirmed the Palestinian rejection of the Clinton Parameters, and also admitted Israel's acceptance of them, in a statement later published in the Palestinian daily Al-Ayyam for January 29:

"We refused to accept the Clinton initiative as a basis for the negotiations. The Israelis said that the Clinton proposals should be the basis, but we rejected it."(28)

The two sides did not come close to reaching an agreement at Taba. In fact, Palestinian positions hardened and receded even further away from acceptance of the Clinton Parameters.(29)

Conclusion: Opportunity Lost

Even after the Camp David Summit and after Taba, the Palestinians insist they have no regrets about rejecting the Clinton offer. One of the key Palestinian negotiators, Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), made this clear in an interview published in the Palestinian daily Al-Ayyam for July 28, 2001:

[Abu Mazen:] We made clear to the American and Israeli sides several times that the Palestinian side is unable to make concessions on anything.(30)

[Question:] Now, a year following Camp David, do you feel a sense of regret for not accepting the proposal which was presented to you?

[Abu Mazen:] Not at all. I don't feel any sense of regret. What we did was the right thing to do. The Israelis and the Americans deluded themselves and others that in that way, and based that information which they gathered from here and there, they could coerce us [into doing] something and to come out of this summit victorious.(31)

It is abundantly clear that the Palestinians rejected the Clinton offer and have no regrets about doing so. It is also clear that their claim to have rejected it because it offered them only cantons is a misrepresentation of the truth and another Palestinian attempt to rewrite history. The Clinton Parameters explicitly specified a contiguous Palestinian state on virtually all of the disputed territory (when one considers both the land swaps and the safe passage route between the West Bank and Gaza[32]). Israel made great compromises: it was willing to admit the formation of a new hostile state immediately next door, and to give up its dreams of an undivided Jerusalem, access to the lands of the Bible, and a permanent security presence on the Jordan Valley. The Palestinians, however, refused to compromise and refused to recognize legitimate Israeli security needs and Jewish roots in Jerusalem.

The Clinton Parameters offered the basis of a settlement that asked concessions of both sides and that was fair to both sides. It was without doubt worth considering. But instead of taking it seriously, and instead of countering with a serious proposal of their own, the Palestinians began a violent confrontation that has escalated into nearly five years of a bloody terrorist war. What started with throwing stones and hurling rocks grew to bombing buses and attacking Israeli cities with missiles. Both sides have suffered huge casualties. And it could all have been prevented.

April 2005


1. "Who Are the Israelis?" Presbyterian Church (USA).

2. "The Arab Invasion 1948," Jewish Agency for Israel.

3. "Why did the Palestinians Reject the Camp David Peace Proposal?" PLO Negotiations Affairs Department.

4. Dennis Ross, The Missing Peace (New York: Farar, Straus and Giroux, 2004).

5. Arthur Bierman, Focus on Israel.

6. The PLO Negotiations Affairs Department inaccurately and deceptively presents this altered map as the "Israeli Proposal for the Palestinian State at Camp David." The map is also reproduced in Ross, Missing Peace, front matter.

7. "How Did Israel's Proposal Envision the Territory of a Palestinian State?" PLO Negotiations Affairs Department.

8. Hussein Agha and Robert Malley, "Camp David: The Tragedy of Errors," New York Review of Books, August 9, 2001.

9. Dennis Ross, Margaret Warner, and Jim Hoagland, "From Oslo to Camp David to Taba: Setting the Record Straight," Washington Institute for Near East Policy, August 8, 2001.

10. Ibid.

11. See map representing this offer in Ross, Missing Peace, front matter.

12. Ross, Missing Peace, 694.

13. Ari Shavit, "The Day Peace Died: Interview with Shlomo Ben-Ami," Ha'aretz, September 14, 2001.

14. Mitchell G. Bard, "The 'al-Aksa Intifada'," Jewish Virtual Library: Myths & Facts Online.

15. Deborah Sontag, "Battle at Jerusalem Holy Site Leaves 4 Dead and 200 Hurt," New York Times, September 29, 2000.

16. Mitchell G. Bard, "The 'al-Aksa Intifada'," Jewish Virtual Library.

17. Nina Gilbert and Lamia Lahoud, "Ben-Ami: Rajoub Accepted Sharon's Haram Al Sharif's Visit," Jerusalem Post, October 4, 2000; Ross, Missing Peace, 728.

18. Ross, "From Oslo to Camp David to Taba"; Missing Peace, 730.

19. David Makovsky, "Taba Mythchief," National Interest, Spring 2003, 121.

20. Ross, "From Oslo to Camp David to Taba"; Missing Peace, 741.

21. Ross, "From Oslo to Camp David to Taba"; Missing Peace, 748.

22. Ross, Missing Peace, 752; full text of the Clinton Parameters in Ross, Missing Peace, 801-805.

23. Ross, Missing Peace, 755.

24. Shavit, "The Day Peace Died." For further documentation supporting Ben-Ami's account see Arthur Bierman, "Oslo Continued: From the Beginning of the Intifada to Clinton's December Initiative," Focus on Israel.

25. Palestinian Negotiating Team, "Official Palestinian Response to the Clinton Parameters," PLO Negotiations Affairs Department.

26. Ross, Missing Peace, 802.

27. "What happened at the Taba Conference in January 2001?," Palestine Facts; Ross, "From Oslo to Camp David to Taba"; Missing Peace, 757.

28. David Makovsky, "Taba Mythchief," National Interest, Spring 2003, 122.

29. Makovsky, "Taba Mythchief."

30. "Abu Mazen: Had Camp David Convened Again, We Would Take the Same Positions: Part I," Middle East media Research Institute, Special Dispatch Series No. 249, August 1, 2001.

31. "Abu Mazen: Had Camp David Convened Again, We Would Take the Same Positions: Part II," Middle East media Research Institute, Special Dispatch Series No. 250, August 2, 2001.

32. Shavit, "The Day Peace Died.

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