Set aside the myths, and what remains?

Three years after the Camp David summit–that infamous “lost opportunity”–it is useful to examine whether the alternative approaches attempted after the summit’s failure were productive for either party to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. It was inevitable that allowing this very first and highly visible final status negotiations summit to crash and burn would bring us to the only alternative to peaceful negotiations–violent confrontations. Today, both parties are reaping their rewards.

In the Palestinian perception, after Israel failed to convince the Palestinian leadership to enter into final status agreements at Camp David, it decided to try to use other means of “convincing” Palestinians of the kind of solution that Israel thought correct. Starting with the leadership of former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and since, Israel has initiated the use of all manner of pressure against Palestinians, including violence and collective punishment. There is no other explanation for the government’s precedent-setting act of allowing right-wing opposition leader Ariel Sharon to enter the Haram Al Sharif, an Islamic holy place, in a public relations stunt. When Palestinians demonstrated, Israel responded with a blizzard of force, spending thousands of bullets and killing an average of ten Palestinians a day for the first ten days of what was later to be called the “intifada”, despite almost no Israeli casualties.

This barrage was accompanied by the rapid propagation of several myths crafted by Israel about Camp David. One of these has been that Israel made an “unprecedented and generous offer” to end the occupation on 90 to 95 percent of the occupied Palestinian territories, an offer that the Palestinians refused to accept.

In fact, there was no documented Israeli offer made at Camp David. There were American attempts to establish positions here and there, but these were not Israeli, nor were they generous. Even these suggestions did not present a serious strategy for handling the Jerusalem component of the conflict, nor did they barely touch upon the very major issue of refugees. After Camp David, there was the opportunity to build on what the summit had started: United States President Bill Clinton introduced his proposals, which were not refused by either Palestinians or Israelis. There is no truth to the lie that Palestinians rejected the dream that they have always struggled for.

The second part of that myth, of course, is that Palestinians did not “accept” the end of occupation because they were intent on the return of millions of Palestinian refugees, a demand that–as Israel and its supporters tell it–is meant to reclaim that section of historic Palestine that is now Israel. This is also pure fiction, since Palestinians have never demanded the return of “millions of refugees,” but always rightly said that the Palestinian refugee issue, which sits at the heart of the conflict, must be solved on the basis of international law and United Nations Resolution 194, and in a manner negotiated by the two parties.

Israel has wielded these myths alongside an immense battery of force to try to impose on Palestinians the kind of negotiating terms that are convenient for Israel. What Israel has gotten instead are not weaker Palestinian demands, but a further deepening of the vicious cycle of violence and hatred and the spirit of revenge within both societies. It has now come time for Israel and Palestinians to recognize that the use of force is counterproductive and that replacing confrontation with negotiations may have a better chance of achieving both sides’ legitimate objectives.

Mr. Ghassan Khatib is a Palestinian political analyst and director of the Jerusalem Media and Communications Center.

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