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Issue 50, September 2000

Camp David fall out

'DO YOU want to be present at my funeral?' Yasser Arafat asked Bill Clinton. This question, posed during the tensest period of the recent Camp David negotiations, graphically indicated how little room for manouevre Arafat and the leadership of the Palestinian Authority (PA) actually have.

They are trapped between huge pressure from the US and Israeli ruling classes, and the ever-mounting anger of the Palestinian masses. While the representatives of the beleaguered Israeli coalition government had slightly more elbow room, even Ehud Barak, the Israeli war-hero general turned prime minister, went home to an uncertain future as one coalition partner after another left his cabinet.

The Camp David talks were supposed to deal with the remaining, substantive, 'final status' discussions; the most thorny issues, such as recognition of a Palestinian state, the status of Jerusalem, the future of three to four million Palestinian refugees in the Arab diaspora, and water rights.

Previous intermediate agreements between the PA and Israeli governments had set 13 September as the deadline for a deal. Unlike previous rounds of negotiations, however, initial pressure to begin the Camp David round came mainly from Barak, then Clinton. Barak made grand promises about peace during his 1999 election campaign: peace with the Syrians and Palestinians; and peace in southern Lebanon. After that, Barak would guarantee social and economic peace.

Barak wanted to negotiate with the Syrian regime first and then force the PA to settle for less because they were the last to the negotiating table. His grand strategy failed miserably.


The Syrian regime was not prepared to make any concessions on the return of the Golan Heights, occupied by Israel since 1967. This track of the negotiations soon foundered, despite numerous interventions by high-level US envoys. As a result, Barak had to implement one of his election promises: the unilateral withdrawal from south Lebanon in July. What was intended as an orderly retreat became a rout, and could have ended in disaster for the Israeli ruling class.

Barak's government has launched a series of attacks on the poorest sections of the Israeli Jewish working class. There has been an unprecedented polarisation in wealth. Widespread anger has developed towards Barak's government, which is seen as representing the super-rich and corrupt politicians. The 'peace process' is looked on as a platform for government politicians to pretend to be doing something while avoiding the real problems facing the majority of the Israeli population - poverty and unemployment.

Following the breakdown in talks with the Syrian regime, Barak tried reopening fast-track negotiations with the PA. The timetable for such negotiations was limited by the 13 September deadline and the forthcoming US presidential elections. But even these negotiations quickly hit difficulties. Under increasing pressure, Arafat said he would unilaterally declare a Palestinian state on 13 September if no progress was made. Barak began putting pressure on Clinton to host a negotiations marathon at Camp David.

Clinton was in favour of the attempt, partly for personal reasons: to finish his tenure with a crowning achievement in the sphere of international diplomacy, the president who 'ended' decades of conflict in the Middle East. Also, if no solution was found before the US presidential elections, many months would pass before a new president could be involved in the process again.


The main reason for the failure of this latest Camp David round is that the 'peace process' was never designed to actually solve the fundamental contradictions in the region: the wish of the majority of Palestinians for genuine social and national liberation; and the protection of security and living standards of the Israeli Jewish working class.

To do that would undermine the very basis of imperialist control in the region - something the US and Israeli ruling classes will never contemplate. The peace process has been designed to give minimal concessions to keep the negotiations going while leaving the most difficult issues to last. But it is precisely in dealing with these difficult issues that the deception of US imperialism and Israeli capitalism is most clearly exposed.

The US proposed a Palestinian 'state' established on 95% of the West Bank and Gaza. Israel would annex the other 5% which would cover four settlement blocs. The Israeli army and settlers would be allowed free movement into the 183 settlements which would remain in Israeli territory and for the 60 settlements which would be part of the Palestinian state. This 'free movement' would require security and a series of road networks dividing the Palestinian 'state' into four separate areas. Israel would maintain early warning stations on the Jordan ridge (the border with Jordan, on the east side of the West Bank) and would also have military bases in the West Bank from which it could deploy troops (presumably into the new Palestinian 'state').


The Israeli government would express regret at the plight of millions of Palestinian refugees but bear no responsibility for their suffering. They would commit themselves to allow the return of some 'tens of thousands' of Palestinians to Israel as part of a humanitarian exercise, and 500,000 would return to the new Palestinian 'state'. Israel would contribute to a new international fund for the rehabilitation and compensation of the remainder of the Palestinian diaspora.

Finally, Israel would annex the huge settlements to the East, North, and South of Jerusalem, providing a nearly closed ring of Israeli territory around East Jerusalem and its surroundings where the Palestinians are in a majority. Israel would reduce municipal boundaries in the East of the city to what they were before 1967. This would mean that Israel would give up control of 28 Palestinian villages which are increasingly difficult for it to control and a heavy drain on its resources even to provide the limited social support it does give. In areas near the Old City of East Jerusalem there will be 'shared sovereignty'. Previous experience has shown this means Israeli control of building and planning with Palestinian responsibility for schools, hospitals and other services. In the Old City, Palestinians would have religious sovereignty over the Haram al-Sharif religious site and the 37,000 Palestinians who live in this area would have civilian autonomy. Israel would have full sovereignty over the Jewish and Armenian quarters.

These proposals were impossible even for Arafat to accept. Clinton indirectly criticised the Palestinian leadership for not having 'prepared their public better for compromise'. The problem, however, was not of spin or presentation. The concessions would involve signing away the national, social and economic rights of the Palestinian masses, something the majority clearly understand.


In private, Clinton railed against Arafat and threatened him with international isolation, with being branded as responsible for the breakdown of the talks, and the withdrawal of US funding for the PA. Subsequently, the PA has threatened to declare a state on 13 September. The Israeli government says it will annex parts of the West Bank in retaliation. Clinton, showing ever more clearly US support for Israel, threatened to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, thus indicating its support for the Israeli claim to control the whole of Jerusalem.

If Arafat goes ahead, it would greatly increase tension in the region. The Israeli ruling class would be forced to retaliate in some form. For imperialism and capitalism, however, the biggest factor for instability in the region is the reaction of the Palestinian masses in such a situation. Arafat would be forced to lean on them for support and the anger that could explode on the streets would be very difficult for him to control.

Behind the scenes, the US and Israeli ruling classes are attempting to persuade other Arab regimes to pressurise Arafat to delay the declaration of an independent state to November. They hope for a breathing space to restart negotiations. But even if a deal was signed, there is no guarantee that Barak would have the authority to implement it. Arafat would face similar difficulties.

The latest round of the so-called 'peace process' is a sharp reminder for capitalism and imperialism that no amount of spin or positive packaging is enough to hide what is a betrayal of the Palestinian masses' desire for their own nation and social and economic liberation.


Kevin Simpson

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