NYTimes: Looking Back at Camp David
July 28, 2001
Looking Back at Camp David
I n bitter, protracted conflicts like the one between Israel
and the Palestinians, each side maintains its own
chronicle of events, emphasizing certain details and
omitting others. So it has been with the divergent
accounts of the collapse of last summer's Camp David
peace talks and the months of violence that followed. But
those narratives are now being challenged and re-
examined. From this exercise can come a better, more
realistic understanding of how Israel and the Palestinians
can renew their search for a lasting peace.
An article by The Times's Deborah Sontag this week
reported on some of the newly revealed aspects of last
year's failed search for a negotiated agreement. The story
suggests that both Ehud Barak, who was then the Israeli
prime minister, and Yasir Arafat, the Palestinian leader,
made political and diplomatic miscalculations, as did
President Bill Clinton and his aides.
Yet, between the Camp David meetings last July and the
discussions between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators in
Taba, Egypt, six months later, remarkable progress was
made in narrowing differences between the two sides.
They discussed, without finally accepting, far-reaching
compromises on territory, Jerusalem, the future of Jewish
settlements and the rights of Palestinian refugees, four of
the most important elements of a final agreement. If
peace talks resume, the breakthroughs made in these six
months could provide the basis for a comprehensive
Constructing something as complex and sensitive as a
Middle East peace agreement requires a confluence of
favorable factors, including propitious timing, compatible
negotiators and a high degree of mutual trust. In
retrospect, it is clear that those factors were not present
at Camp David. Mr. Barak and Mr. Arafat came to the
talks with different expectations and operated there under
different political pressures.
Mr. Barak came to Camp David with a daring offer, a
peace plan that essentially vaulted over the interim steps
outlined under the Oslo accords. With Mr. Clinton's
presidency winding down and his own tenure in office
uncertain because of a fractious governing coalition, Mr.
Barak gambled that Mr. Arafat would accept his approach.
But Mr. Arafat preferred to move more deliberately, even
initially resisting the idea of a Camp David summit
meeting. Mr. Arafat did not offer any proposals of his own
at Camp David. When the talks failed, he condoned the
violent uprising that broke out in late September.
Camp David fell short because of insufficient preparation
and a lack of trust and chemistry between the two
leaders. Both sides initially believed this failure was only
temporary, and Mr. Barak and Mr. Arafat continued
serious efforts to conclude a peace deal for another two
months, until the outbreak of violence in September.
Even after that, a new American proposal from Mr.
Clinton in December led to a final round of talks at Taba
that dramatically narrowed the remaining differences. But
by then it was too late. Mr. Clinton and Mr. Barak would
soon leave office and the months of violence had
shattered the faith of most Israelis and Palestinians in
reaching a negotiated peace.
Some day, efforts to complete a peace settlement
between Israel and the Palestinians will resume. Both
sides understand that there can be no military solution to
their conflict. Peace is still in the interest of both peoples,
and important Israeli and Palestinian leaders are still
interested in achieving