Jewish World Review April 16, 2002 / 5 Iyar, 5762
To those who say that Palestinian terrorism is simply a response to Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory, let's remember: In 2000, Israel was prepared to hand back 97 percent of the West Bank. Yasser Arafat refused the deal.
And when Arafat and his apologists in the United States claim that Israel offered only cut-up pieces of territory, "bantustans," and not an economically viable, geographically coherent state, a former top U.S. peace negotiator responds: "Baloney."
Dennis Ross, who worked on Mideast negotiations for former Presidents George Bush and Bill Clinton, said in an interview, "There's one reason why there wasn't a deal. It can be said in two words: Yasser Arafat."
Clinton's proposals, which were acceptable to Israel, would have given Palestinians a viable state, partial sovereignty over Jerusalem, a right for Palestinian refugees to return to the new state and $30 billion in resettlement money, Ross said.
"He turned his back on it because he would have had to end the conflict with Israel," Ross said. "He evidently thought that to end the conflict was to end himself - his career as a resistance leader."
As Secretary of State Colin Powell heads for Israel, Ross' account of peace proposals made by Clinton and former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak serves as a useful reminder of who is responsible for the current violence in the Mideast.
At the moment, President Bush is leaning on Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to withdraw tanks and troops from cities in the West Bank where they are trying to uproot Palestinian terrorist networks.
Much of the U.S. media is portraying Sharon as the aggressor and Palestinians as the victims of the current violence, ignoring what's gone on before.
But Ross, now counselor at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said, "Israel is doing what it's doing because Arafat wouldn't do it." That is, controlling terrorism.
Ross said Powell's message to Arafat should be: "It's now or never." That is, he moves to control violence or the United States cuts off connections with him.
Ross indicated that occasionally during the 10-year peace process that Arafat ultimately destroyed, the Palestinian leader demonstrated that he could crack down on terrorist groups.
In 1996, he ordered his security forces to arrest hundreds of militants and kept them in jail for months. During 1999 and much of 2000, no terror bombs were set off in Israel because Arafat ordered them to stop.
Arafat triggered new violence in late 2000, Ross said, "because he wanted to see how much more he could get" in Israeli concessions. The killing has never ceased.
In particular, I asked Ross about the charge that Israel was never willing to hand over more than "bantustans" during Clinton-era negotiations.
It's a claim made repeatedly now by Arafat and his aides - and sympathizers like James Zogby of the Arab American Institute - to reclaim the historical high ground from Israel.
The term "bantustan" refers to the separated and powerless black "countries" set up by white-ruled South Africa to maintain apartheid. Palestinians persistently liken Israel to South Africa's morally repugnant former regime.
But as Ross recounts the history, it's clear the charge is false. In July 2000, when Clinton invited Arafat and Barak to a summit at Camp David, Israel presented a map that would have given Palestinians 87 percent of the territory Israel captured in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.
Under that map, Palestine would have been divided into northern and southern enclaves connected by a narrow strip, with Gaza separated. "But Barak made it clear that was not the end of the story," Ross said.
Before the Camp David negotiations collapsed, Barak had agreed to a thickening of the strip, bringing the Palestinian total to 91 percent.
Barak also agreed to give the new Palestinian state sovereignty over Muslim portions of Jerusalem plus the top of the Haram al-Sharif, with Israel retaining sovereignty of lower portions of the Temple Mount, including the Western Wall holy to Jews.
Working for an agreement almost to the end of his presidency, Clinton and his aides came up with other ideas agreeable to Barak, including eventual transfer of the strategic Jordan Valley, bringing total returned territory to 97 percent.
Ross said Barak also agreed to Palestinian control of all Arab areas of East Jerusalem, construction of a raised highway connecting Gaza to the West Bank and international peace monitors.
Even though the Israeli right, including Sharon, criticized Barak's concessions, Ross said, "I was in Israel three weeks after Camp David. People there were ready to accept it. They wanted the conflict to be over."
Arafat, of course, did not. And all signs suggest he never wants it to be over. So, after Powell gives him one final last chance to work for peace, the United States should work to revoke his Nobel Peace Prize and let Israel, if it chooses, send him into exile.