Camp David Diaries

August 9, 2000

 

Top Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat reveals events inside Camp David in a tell all synopsis in Bethlehem.

 

The 14-day Camp David Summit in the Maryland hills were tougher on President Yasser Arafat then the 1982 siege of Beirut when Israeli force fired heavy artillery from the ground, sea and air to drive the PLO out of Beirut.

 

In Beirut, President Arafat was responsible for the lives of his fighters, at Camp David he bore the responsibility of the future of millions of Palestinians and the generations to come. He was entrusted with what is sacred to the hearts and existence of billions of Muslims and Christians around the world. He was expected to deliver an agreement that would secure the rights of Palestinians, Arabs, Muslims and Christians in Jerusalem and its holy sites.

 

At the start it was agreed that there would be three committees, Jerusalem, borders and refugees. Jerusalem would prove to be the dominating issue in the summit.

 

Erekat said the Americans came with three-part "solution" to Jerusalem: the suburbs: Walajah, Un Tuba, Sur Baher, parts of Tur, Shufat, Beit Hanina, Samir Ammies, these suburbs would come under Palestinian sovereignty. neighborhoods inside Jerusalem: Silwan, Sheik Jarah, Suwanyieh would be under Palestinian self-rule in a large sense.

the Old City would have "special status" but would be under Israeli sovereignty.

The Palestinians told the Americans that this would be a recipe for war not only for now but for generations to come.

 

On borders, the Israelis said they would keep settlement blocks, a total of 12 percent of the West Bank. This would give the Palestinians 88 percent of the West Bank, with crossing points, the Gaza Strip clean of settlements and a Hebron clean of settlers. The proposal included a safe passage with no Israeli supervision, the release of all prisoners and an evacuation of all settlements that are in the heart of the West Bank.

 

On refugees, Israel wants to replace the term the right of return with a humanitarian return.

 

On these two issues, borders and refugees, Erekat said the Israelis and Americans put a program that had a start but no end. This left the door open to implementation without time restraint, an implementation that could take just about forever.

 

On July 13, President Arafat and President Clinton hold a meeting. President Clinton gives President Arafat a written paper on Jerusalem. Erekat reads it to Arafat. After an introduction on the sanctity of the city and its historical importance the Israeli-American proposal on Jerusalem were reiterated.

 

President Arafat told Clinton he could not accept this paper. President Arafat's response shocked Clinton, who told President Arafat, according to Erekat, 'I did not tell you to accept it I told you to read it.'

 

President Arafat then told Clinton, "Mr. President, you are contradicting the American position and we cannot accept these proposals."

 

Regarding Jerusalem, the Palestinians have letters of assurances from the US Administration give to then before the 1991 Madrid Middle East Peace Conference in which the United States states that East Jerusalem is part of the 1967 lands occupied during war and that its annexation is illegal.

 

On July 14, the proposal was withdrawn. And Israel offered 90 percent of the West Bank, reducing its demand for 12 percent of the settlement areas to 10.

 

Finally the Palestinians laid it out in the open and reveled what Erekat said was the Palestinian negotiations strategy.

 

Erekat told the Israelis "our strategy is based on UN Resolutions, a recognition of the Palestinian state on the June 1967 borders, we will then immediately begin negotiations on the border amendment and equal exchange of land in quality and quantity. As for Jerusalem we will address your concerns of the Western Wall and the Jewish Quarter. Borders, we believe that the danger is from within Israel. The growing tide of extremists will be the major threat for the next fifty years. The security concern does not come from the East (the Jordan Valley which Israel wants to keep for ten years) as you claim and as far aw we are concerned, we would rather spend money building schools than buying tanks."

 

Clintons temper bursts:

During a meeting on July 17 Clinton participated in a meeting of the border committee. Ahmed Qurie, (Abu Ala) headed the Palestinian side. Abu Ala rejected an Israeli map outlining the borders. Furious, Clinton asked Abu Ala to produce his map. Calmly, Abu Ala responded, my map is the June 4, 1967 border.

 

Dawn, July 18, Clinton tells President Arafat that he is leaving for Okinawa. He adds that he has proposals regarding borders; the amendment would be 9 percent that would be within a land exchange. He did not specify the quality or quantity of that exchange. As for refugees, Clinton said he has a "satisfactory" solution but did not go into details. Jerusalem, Clinton said Palestinians would have full sovereignty over the Muslim and Christian Quarters as for the Al Aqsa Mosque Compound the Security Council will take a decision to hand it over to Palestine and Morocco, the chair of the Jerusalem Committee while Israel maintains full sovereignty over it.

 

The Palestinian team sat to discuss these proposals, President Arafat asked, what do they (Israelis) want from under the Mosque. And the Armenians who fled to Palestine they are as important o me as the Muslims and Christians. The proposal was rejected.

 

July 19

President Arafat and President Clinton held seven meeting that day. President Arafat was offered 90 percent of the territory, to be expanded in the future. The Security Council would issue a resolution naming Arafat as the custodian of the Aqsa Mosque. Clinton promised a 'satisfactory solution to the refugee issue'

 

President Arafat answered, "I have great respect for you Mr. President, but your proposals are not a basis for a solution." "But I am leaving for Japan," Clinton told Arafat. "Leave and we will continue to talk," Arafat assured Clinton.

 

In the sixth meeting Clinton told Arafat, "You are gambling with the cause and the future. Barak presented proposals but you take and put in your pockets." Similar attacks came from National Security Advisor Sandy Burger and Secretary Albright.

 

"I came here representing Arabs, Muslim, Christians around the world, I came to make peace and won't accept that you or any one else to put me down in history as a traitor, I invite you to my funeral because I have accepted to be a martyr since the start of the revolution and if I am weak now, some one will come in two years or five years to liberate Jerusalem and if you think that as a superpower you can punish us with sanctions, your sanctions will not work because we are a people who are already under punishment."

 

That night, Arafat asked the team to pack their bags. He was leaving the summit. Clinton then came and asked Arafat to stay.

 

In the absence of Clinton, the Israelis would not come to any negotiating session.

When Clinton returned, he asked to see Arafat, it was July 24.

 

"I am deeply sorry, it seems that the Summit has come to a sad end, my heart is broken and my hopes in the peace process have been shattered. You have lost many chances, first in 1948 and then in 1974 and now you are destroying yourselves in 2000. You wont have a Palestinian state and you wont have friendships with any one you will be alone in the region that is …

 

President Arafat interrupts, "Don't finish, I respect you very much and I realize that you are affected by the Israeli position, I have led my people's revolution and the siege of Beirut was easier on me than the siege of Camp David, the revolution is easier than peace making. We ask for peace but that peace won’t be without a price, there can be no agreement without Jerusalem."

 

Source: Palestinian dailies, Al-Hayat and Al-Ayyam.

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