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Jewish World Review July 17, 2000 / 14 Tamuz, 5760

Mort Zuckerman

Mort Zuckerman
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Can there be a new peace between old enemies? Or will new enemies regress to an old state of war? -- THE CAMP DAVID summit is a last-ditch effort because if Prime Minister Ehud Barak, Chairman Yasser Arafat, and President Clinton fail, the Middle East will again be a flash point for terrorism and war. Clinton is near the end of his term. Barak has put his entire political career at risk on the concessions he has made, and Arafat could lose power to extremists because he has never prepared the wider Arab world for the compromises necessary for a peace. Hanging over the talks is the Palestinian threat to declare an independent state on September 13, which would kill the Oslo accords and provoke the Israelis to annex parts of the West Bank where its citizens reside. Violent protests against the Israelis would undoubtedly occur, provoking more violence. That is why the administration called the Camp David meeting, choosing the lesser of two evils rather than the evil of two lessers.

Israelis and Palestinians are losing confidence in each other's intentions. Because of Arafat's failures to disarm the terrorists and the vitriolic anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic rhetoric of his supporters, many Israelis believe the Palestinians simply want to get as much territory as possible, without a final resolution of the conflict, so they can continue their assaults on the very existence of the Jewish state. Israelis fear ending up with an enemy not just at their gates but at their living-room doors, an armed Palestinian police force adjacent to Israel's most vulnerable sectors, pointing its guns.

Deep concessions. While Barak says that "it takes two to tango," he also understands that the Israeli concessions are bound to be greater because Israel is the stronger partner. The concessions he proposed even before Camp David are dramatic–on territory, on sovereignty over the mosques and holy places in Jerusalem and exclusive Muslim access to them, on ultimate control over the strategic Jordan Valley, on the elimination of dozens of Israeli settlements, and on expanded Palestinian municipal authority in East Jerusalem. Barak believes that peace with Israel's neighbors is a prerequisite for a stable and secure region. Palestinians, on the other hand, do not believe the Israelis want to give them the land and the legitimacy they believe they are entitled to.

The Palestinians have much to gain from an agreement. For renouncing all claims against Israel, except for possibly deferring final details on Jerusalem, they would gain an enhanced country with territorial contiguity, minimum Israeli settlement enclaves, control of their country's resources, common borders with Arab countries and control of passage into these countries, an independent state recognized by Israel and the world, Muslim flags over the holy places in Jerusalem, and guaranteed employment of thousands within Israel along with billions of dollars from the world for resettlement of Arab refugees in countries like Lebanon and in Jordan. If the Palestinians balk, they stand to lose much when the world assesses the rejection of an extremely generous offer by the Israelis.

Arafat's concessions would be in accepting what he cannot receive, namely the elimination of the "secure and recognized boundaries" promised to Israel by U.N. Resolution 242. So far he has been obdurate. In this atmosphere, we need a new type of presidential effort–a stick as well as the carrots. Clinton well understands that Arafat cannot accept an Israeli offer, no matter how generous, given the maximalist demands of the many extremists and the rejectionist Arab street. But Clinton also knows that Arafat might well accept a proposal if it is presented by the United States. At the right moment, America must be ready to tell Arafat that he must agree to a hard compromise–that the United States will never recognize a unilateral Palestinian declaration of independence, that such an act would trigger the termination of U.S. aid, and that in this context the American public would sympathize with an Israeli decision to annex limited areas. Arafat will not soften unless the United States toughens.

We are now at the moment of truth. Camp David will test America's diplomacy and the value of the relationships that Clinton has built up over the past seven years. Let us all hope that Camp David lives up to its tradition as the point of germination for the full flowering of peace in the Middle East.

JWR contributor Mort Zuckerman is editor-in-chief and publisher of U.S. News and World Report. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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© 2000, Mortimer Zuckerman