Al-Ahram Weekly   Al-Ahram Weekly
13 - 19 July 2000
Issue No. 490
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Fateful decisions

By Hoda Tawfik

A deal designed by the American delegation to the Camp David summit appears to be in the making, but the prospect of a breakthrough seemed dim as the summit began at the site where the first peace deal between an Arab country and Israel was put in place.

By hosting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat at the Maryland retreat, US President Bill Clinton wanted to use the symbolism and seclusion of the place to clinch another framework agreement, this time to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. But Barak, and possibly Clinton, appeared to be looking beyond peace, insisting on major Palestinian concessions.

Clinton's message to Barak and Arafat contained two major demands: "ending the conflict" and finding a way to resolve "competing claims."

"Without principled compromise, there can be no success," Clinton told the negotiators and the world.

But the Palestinians appeared unimpressed by Clinton's plea. In reaction, Hanan Ashrawi, official spokesperson for the Palestinian delegation, said that "Arafat is not ready for compromises. It is not on his cards."

"When Barak talks about ending the conflict and putting an end to any further Palestinian claims, then it is high time that everybody understands that if you want to end the conflict you have to end the causes of the conflict," Ashrawi told Al-Ahram Weekly. This, she said, means that Israel will have to withdraw to the lines of 4 June 1967, including withdrawal from East Jerusalem, and accept the legitimate political rights of refugees in accordance with UN General Assembly resolutions affirming their right of return.

But Clinton is working hard preparing documents and exploring how far Barak and Arafat can compromise on the final status issues, including Jerusalem.

Clinton told both leaders that he wants to hear their positions on these issues before the Americans propose compromise documents. The American idea is to steer the talks with both leaders, and senior members of their delegations, toward areas of possible compromise in the hope that a deal will be reached. Whether this strategy will work is an open question.

The Palestinians are sceptical, while Israeli spokesmen insist that a deal is possible only if Palestinians make the required concessions on Jerusalem and the refugee problem. To the Israelis, "concessions" are clearly equivalent to dropping all claims.

The summit's outcome is uncertain. It could result in failure or success, another temporary agreement instead of a framework agreement on final status issues, or agreement on some issues and a decision to keep the door open for further talks.

"It is hard to be optimistic," said Khalil Jahshan, vice-president of the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee. He told the Weekly that a final agreement is not possible in the summit's short span. He said that, despite high hopes, "there are very limited expectations from our side because the issues are very difficult, and have escaped a solution for so many years."

The summit is "certainly a gamble because it has not been pre-cooked," noted Professor Shibli Telhami, who occupies the Anwar El-Sadat chair at the University of Maryland. Still, he believes that although the gap between the parties' positions remains wide on major issues, there is a reasonable chance that the summit may work.

Telhami estimates that there has been an unofficial "loosening" of positions, that "contours" are emerging on the major issues, and that there are gaps that can be bridged. He feels it is possible to envision, if not a comprehensive agreement, then at least an agreement on major issues that may require additional negotiations on some specifics.

Despite Clinton's push for compromises, an American official told the Weekly: "We are trying to concentrate on what the parties can gain rather than what they may lose. It is important to produce a win-win solution for both parties."

But the Clinton administration's ability to deliver a win-win agreement is debatable, unless the two sides are prepared to make major compromises on fateful questions..

Clinton is asking them to do whatever it takes to reach an agreement. But the Palestinians insist that Arafat cannot make major concessions because the disputed issues have a national dimension. The majority of Palestinians are refugees living outside, or inside, the Occupied Territories and they must vote on any agreement in a general referendum, Ashrawi said, adding that Arafat cannot determine their fate and future.


Related stories:
Laying down the red lines - 16 - 22 September 1999
Bad state in final status - 3-9 December 1998

 

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