frontline 7


The Israeli government launched a highly successful propaganda campaign after the failure of the Camp David discussions in July 2000, aiming to convince Israeli and international public opinion that Arafat had refused the best offer that Israel could make, had refused a Palestinian state, because he insisted on the right of 3.7 million Palestinian refugees to return to Israel and swamp the Jewish population. This was hogwash. Arafat has no illusion that he can obtain an agreement with Israel on that basis. But he can only negotiate away this right in exchange for a real, viable Palestinian state.

What was on offer at Camp David was Gaza plus the West Bank, with its capital in Arab Jerusalem certainly, but with the West Bank cut in three by blocs of annexed Israeli settlements and with Israel occupying a band along the border with Jordan on a long-term basis. That was what Arafat couldn't accept. But further negotiations took place at Taba in Egypt in January 2001. The content of these negotiations was revealed in Le Monde Diplomatique in September 2001. The Israeli position had evolved substantially in six months, under the pressure of the Intifada.

The Israelis now proposed to annex blocs of settlements comprising 6 per cent of the West Bank and 80 per cent of the settler population, but not cutting into Palestinian territory as at Camp David. In return they proposed ceding Israeli territory equivalent to 3 per cent of the West Bank, the other 3 per cent being accounted for by a 'safe corridor' between the West Bank and Gaza, but which would not be under Palestinian sovereignty. The propositions on Jerusalem as capital of the two states were clearer. The plan to occupy the border with Jordan was abandoned. And for the first time in its history Israel accepted responsibility for the refugee problem, with a specific 'moral engagement' concerning the refugees of Sabra and Chatila. The refugees would have five possible destinations: Israel (but the Israeli government would have the right to say how many - they put forward a figure of 40,000); the future Palestinian state; the territories ceded by Israel to Palestine; their present host countries; and other countries who were ready to accept them.

There were other aspects concerning the limitation on Palestinian armed forces, Israeli warning stations, the stationing of an international force on the borders. The Palestinians made counter-propositions of annexations covering only 65 per cent of the settler population on 2 per cent of the West Bank, with equivalent Israeli territory in exchange; and they proposed that negotiations on the refugees should start from a figure of 100,000. It was the opinion of the Palestinian delegation that an agreement was possible, but it was too late to reach one, with the Israeli elections so close. But what was offered once can be offered again, and perhaps more depending on the relationship of forces, which includes the strength of the international movement in solidarity with Palestine.