2177Safire: Not Arafat's Fault?
- Jul 29, 2001http://www.nytimes.com/2001/07/30/opinion/30SAFI.html
July 30, 2001
By WILLIAM SAFIRE
WASHINGTON -- The negotiators of the process that led to
the terrorist war against Israel have independently reached
consensus on how to protect their posteriors: because
everybody was responsible for last year's failure at Camp
David, nobody can be held accountable.
"Many Now Agree," read the front-page New York Times
subhead, "That All the Parties, Not Just Arafat, Were to
Blame." As house contrarian, count me among the many
who do not agree that the blame for the current hostilities
can be so soothingly divvied up.
Certainly Ehud Barak's eagerness for a final peace led him to
make concessions far beyond what the people of Israel
would have accepted. And surely Bill Clinton's trust in his
own persuasiveness or desperation for a Nobel Peace Prize
drove him to intercede too aggressively. But it is absurd to
buy an Arab spinmeister's notion that the Camp David talks
collapsed because Barak offended Arafat by paying more
attention to Chelsea Clinton at dinner, or President Clinton
was too solicitous of Arafat's ambitious younger aides.
The overriding reason for the war against Israel today is that
Yasir Arafat decided that war was the way to carry out the
often-avowed Palestinian plan. Its first stage is to create a
West Bank state from the Jordan River to the sea with
Jerusalem as its capital. Then, by flooding Israel with
"returning" Palestinians, the plan in its promised final phase
would drive the hated Jews from the Middle East.
Ah, but my distrustful judgment is simplistic, according to
the nuanced line being peddled by rejected Clinton
negotiators, shell-shocked Barak aides and a glad-to-be
embattled Arafat. It is in their common interest to portray
the abrupt Arab rejection of Barak's too-generous offer at
Camp David a year ago as merely a misunderstanding of
each other's psychology, compounded by the unfortunate
pressures of democratic elections.
According to the tripartite instant revisionism, the underlying
reason for the failure of the Camp David meeting last July
was the visit of Ariel Sharon to the Temple Mount. That is a
tricky point to make because Sharon's visit did not take
place until late September. Here is how the imaginative
bashers of the "simplistic blame game" surmount their
The Oslo peace process did not come apart at Camp David at
all, say the revisionists. Contrary to every press report at the
time, Barak did not "offer the moon" to Arafat he offered
only 93 percent of the West Bank, including the strategic
Jordan Valley, and a state with East Jerusalem as its capital.
That may have been more security risk than the Israeli
public would have accepted, but it fell short of "the moon"
that Arafat sought.
Not until a meeting in December at the Taba Hilton, run by
Israeli superdove Yossi Beilin, with Arab terror attacks in full
swing, did Barak offer "the moon": 97 percent of the West
Bank, air rights that would lead to denial of Palestinian air
space to Israeli aircraft, and a payoff from the U.S. to
Palestinian claimants who agreed not to migrate to Israel.
But that pie in the sky came too late as the aroused Israeli
electorate threw Barak out of office in the most resounding
landslide in its history.
In months to come, as Barak, U.S. Ambassador Martin Indyk
and the Palestinian crew sell their books, we will be
bombarded with the revisionist if-onlys. If only Barak had
offered the whole moon at Camp David; if only Clinton had
forced Barak to stop all building within settlements; if only
Barak had made Sharon the first Jew to be barred by Israel
from the Temple Mount; if only those foolish Israeli voters
understood the frustration motivating suicide bombers and
had re- elected Barak; if only Clinton could have had a third
term . . .
Do not swallow this speculative re- writing of recent events.
By arguing that peace can be made only by someday
adopting Barak's extreme concessions, revisionists send the
unintended message: struggle on, Palestinians! Violence will
wear down the Israeli will and the full "moon" will shine
again. That empty promise invites unending violence.
Blame is not a game; judgment is not to be avoided or
disapproval diluted by pointing fingers in every direction.
Nor is conventional wisdom always unwise. The leader
predominantly to blame for the campaign of killing was and
is Yasir Arafat.