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From: Labour & Trade Union Review: Editorials
Date: July, 2002
By: Editorial

Israel's Generous Offer at Camp David

Yasser Arafat was made an unprecedented and extraordinarily generous offer for a final settlement at Camp David in July 2000 by Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Barak, but he turned it down.

This view, assiduously peddled by Israeli spokesmen, is widely believed, even by people who are sympathetic to the Palestinian cause. It is untrue: the offer was far from generous, as we will see.

Israeli spokesmen go much further than this. So does Ehud Barak himself (see The New York Review of Books, 13 June 2002, which contains an interview with him, and a reply to him by Hussein Agha and Robert Malley, who was a member of the US delegation at Camp David).

Barak’s story is that Arafat refused to negotiate with Israel at Camp David or later at Taba; that Arafat’s ambition is not merely to end the occupation - otherwise he would have accepted Barak’s generous offer - but to destroy Israel; that Arafat’s answer to the generous offer was to unleash an intifada, which was pre-planned, with the objective of destroying Israel; that a settlement with Arafat is therefore impossible and there must be a new Palestinian leadership before Israel can again enter into negotiations with the Palestinians.

This view of what happened at Camp David and thereafter is a travesty of the truth, as we will see. But it is the story that underpins Israeli and US policy and action towards the Palestinians.

In his NYRB interview, Barak states dogmatically:

“He [Arafat] did not negotiate in good faith, indeed, he did not negotiate at all. He just kept saying ‘no’ to every offer, never making any counterproposals of this own.”

This is simply untrue. What is more, its untruth is attested to by the statement that Barak authorised his own delegation to issue jointly with the Palestinian delegation at the end of the Taba talks. This was at a time in January 2001when he was campaigning for re-election and seeking a mandate to continue those talks. The statement said:

“The two sides declare that they have never been closer to reaching an agreement and it is thus our shared belief that the remaining gaps could be bridged with the resumption of negotiations following the Israeli elections.”

Not only does that refute Barak’s claim that Arafat at all times refused to negotiate, it also demolishes the claim that Arafat, having turned down the generous offer made at Camp David the previous July, turned on the intifada in September in order to destroy Israel.

The truth is that negotiations continued through the autumn - and through the start of the intifada in September - and ceased because Barak was fighting an election. Had he, and not Sharon, won the election presumably the negotiations would have been resumed, as foreshadowed in the joint statement at Taba.


Now let us examine the “generous” offer made by Barak at Camp David. This account relies heavily on the NYRB article by Agha & Malley. First, it is by no means clear that Barak made an offer at all. He certainly did not make an offer directly to Arafat.

What happened was that Clinton made a proposal for a settlement by reading a document to Arafat, which according to Barak he had “endorsed in advance”. It does not appear to have been accompanied by the detailed maps essential for the proposal to be well-defined, since it involved territorial swaps between the West Bank and pre-1967 Israel.

Whether the document read by Clinton amounted to an “offer” from Barak, let alone a generous offer, is a matter of opinion. Agha & Malley refer to it as “the ideas put forward by President Clinton at Camp David”, not as an offer made by Barak.


Let us assume that the ideas put forward by Clinton can be regarded as an offer from Barak. Was it generous? Clinton proposed that all of Gaza was to be returned, but as regards the West Bank:

“In order to accommodate Israeli settlements, he proposed a deal by which Israel would annex 9 percent of the West Bank in exchange for turning over to the Palestinians parts of pre-1967 Israel equivalent to 1 percent of the West Bank.

“This proposal would have entailed the incorporation of tens of thousands of additional Palestinians into Israeli territory near the annexed settlements; and it would have meant that territory annexed by Israel would encroach deep inside the Palestinian state.” (Agha & Malley).

The Palestinian position on territory swaps was as follows:

“At Camp David … Arafat’s negotiators accepted the notion of Israeli annexation of West Bank territory to accommodate settlements, though they insisted on a one-for-one swap of land ‘of equal size and value’. The Palestinians argued that the annexed territory should neither affect the contiguity of their own land nor lead to the incorporation of Palestinians into Israel.” (ibid)


“On Jerusalem, the Palestinians accepted at Camp David the principle of Israeli sovereignty over the Wailing Wall, the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, and Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem - neighborhoods that were not part of Israel before the 1967 Six-Day War - though the Palestinians clung to the view that all of Arab East Jerusalem should be Palestinian.” (ibid)

Barak’s offer at Camp David fell short of the very reasonable Palestinian position that if there were to be land swaps they should be equitable. (It also fell short of their bottom line as regards Jerusalem and on the right of return of the Palestinian refugees expelled in 1948). As a consequence, Arafat said No to it. That response was entirely reasonable.

Barak had already offered Syria a settlement for the Golan Heights area based on the principle the Palestinians wanted applied on the West Bank, namely, a return to the 1967 borders plus one-for-one swaps. President Hafiz Assad of Syria rejected this offer in a meeting with Clinton in Geneva in March 2000. Clearly, Barak’s offer to Arafat at Camp David was much less generous than his earlier offer to Assad.


Clinton put forward a further set of proposals on 23 December 2000. These definitely did not have the endorsement of Barak in advance. All parties referred to them as “parameters”, which implies that they were regarded as a basis for negotiation.

They represented a significant movement in the direction of the Palestinian’s position. For example, Clinton suggested an Israeli annexation of between 4% and 6% of the West Bank in exchange for between 1% and 3% of pre-1967 Israel (to which the Palestinians responded at Taba by proposing their own map with about 3.1% of the West Bank being annexed by Israel, and an equivalent amount from the pre-1967 Israel being transferred to the West Bank and Gaza).

It is frequently said that Arafat also rejected these proposals. This is not true. Agha & Malley say:

“The Palestinians undoubtedly were not satisfied with Clinton’s parameters, which they wanted to renegotiate. … But unlike what had happened at Camp David, there was no Palestinian rejection. On the contrary, the two sides, which had engaged in secret meetings during the autumn, agreed to continue talks at Taba. Indeed, the intensive talks that subsequently took place there ended not for lack of an agreement but for lack of time in view of the impending Israeli elections.”

The truth is that both sides accepted the Clinton “parameters” as a basis for further negotiation at Taba.


Since 1967, Israel has occupied the West Bank and the Gaza Strip illegally. Security Council Resolution 242 of 22 November 1967 demands the “withdrawal of Israel armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict”. It is a misuse of words to describe as generous any offer, which does not involve the complete withdrawal by Israel from the territories it has illegally occupied for 35 years. Failing to desist unconditionally from illegality cannot be regarded as an act of generosity.

The Palestinians were the generous party at Camp David. It is extraordinarily generous of them to be prepared to consider a less than complete end to Israel’s illegal occupation, providing they were given land of ‘of equal size and value’ within the pre-1967 boundaries of Israel.

The more so when the reason for a less than complete withdrawal is the need to accommodate Israeli settlements, which are themselves illegal under the Geneva Convention to which Israel is a signatory. Article 49 of the Convention concerning the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War states plainly in its final paragraph:

“The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.”

(Their trashing of the property of the Palestinian Authority in recent months is also illegal under this Convention. Article 53 says:

“Any destruction by the Occupying Power of real or personal property belonging individually or collectively to private persons, or to the State, or to other public authorities, or to social or cooperative organizations, is prohibited, except where such destruction is rendered absolutely necessary by military operations.”)


Of course, the pre-1967 borders of Israel have no international legal standing, since they were established by conquest in 1948. The only borders with a semblance of international endorsement are the 1948 borders, which were approved by the UN General Assembly on 29 November 1947. Since Palestine was administered by Britain under a League of Nations mandate and the mandatory authority of the League was not transferred to the UN, it was not obvious that the General Assembly had any right to award a proportion of Palestine to the Jews.

But be that as it may, the General Assembly awarded 55% of Palestine to the Jews (in an area in which there were approximately the same number of Arabs as Jews) and 45% to the Arabs (in an area in which there were very few Jews).

After the 1948 war, and the expulsion of large numbers of Arabs, Israel was consolidated as a Jewish state in 78% of Palestine (with a 20% Arab minority), leaving a mere 22% for the Arabs, that is, less than half the land area awarded by the UN General Assembly in 1948.

Words have lost their meaning when an offer by Israel to annex a further 9% of the 22% is described as a great act of generosity. It is the Palestinians who have shown generosity by agreeing to negotiate on the basis of the pre-1967 borders which were imposed on them by force of arms.

Note: The New York Review of Books has published a series of informative articles (available at on the Camp David negotiations, written by participants in the negotiations:

(1) Camp David: The Tragedy of Errors by Hussein Agha, Robert Malley (9 August 2001)

(2) Camp David: An Exchange by Dennis Ross, Gidi Grinstein, Reply by Hussein Agha, Robert Malley (20 September 2001)

(3) Camp David and After: An Exchange (1. An Interview with Ehud Barak) by Benny Morris (13 June 2002)

(4) Camp David and After: An Exchange (2. A Reply to Ehud Barak) by Hussein Agha, Robert Malley (13 June 2002)

(5) Camp David and After—Continued by Benny Morris, Ehud Barak, Reply by Hussein Agha, Robert Malley (27 June 2002)

July 2002, No. 117/118

Israel’s Generous Offer

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