Camp David: What went wrong?
Each side got a glimpse of the other's bottom line
By Middle East analyst Roger Hardy
After the high drama of the 15-day summit at Camp David, there are now some hard questions to be answered.
For the Americans, there is the question of whether President Bill Clinton has lost his chance of entering the history
books as a peacemaker - or can still, at this late hour, bring a troubled peace process to some sort of conclusion in the
next few months?
For the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, there is the difficult question of whether he really wants to declare statehood
on 13 September without an agreement with the Israelis - or whether that would be a recipe for disaster.
For Ehud Barak, what's at issue is nothing less than his political survival, now that he has come home empty-handed.
Who was to blame?
Of the three men, none can entirely evade responsibility for the failure at Camp David. Bill Clinton won points for trying.
But it is legitimate to ask whether he was right to force the pace, given the intractable nature of the issues the parties
were grappling with.
A leading American specialist, William Quandt, has commented that Clinton was right to try, but should have done so a year
earlier, rather than waiting until the tailend of his presidency.
One of the weaknesses of the Oslo peace process, after all, was that it deliberately left the most difficult issues - Jerusalem,
refugees, borders - until last, in the mistaken belief that this would make them easier to resolve.
For his part, Ehud Barak showed he has guts but is a poor politician. Even Palestinians privately admit that no Israeli
prime minister has ever gone so far towards meeting their demands.
Whether bravely or (as his critics allege) recklessly, Barak has pushed the limits of the possible - gambling that he could
reverse his political fortunes at home by bringing back a comprehensive peace deal, and then winning convincing endorsement
for it in a popular referendum.
For the moment, that gamble has not paid off. But even Barak's enemies grudgingly admit he has shown vigour and single-mindedness.
Both Barak and Clinton have, in differing degrees, blamed Yasser Arafat for the Camp David breakdown. In their eyes, the
Palestinian leader has proved impossibly stubborn and inflexible.
But in one important respect Barak seems to have misjudged Arafat's position, believing that he would bargain away sovereignty
in Jerusalem in return for most of the West Bank. For any Palestinian leader, such a trade-off was never on the cards. Jerusalem
is as much of a red line for Arafat as it is for Barak.
Moving the goalposts
So did Camp David achieve nothing? It certainly transformed the character of the peace process.
All previous negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, however fraught, seem trivial compared with those two weeks
The two sides have broken some important taboos - on the Palestinian refugees' right of return, on whether Israel really
needs the Jordan valley as its eastern flank, and, above all, on the central, highly charged and deeply symbolic issue of
But more than that, each side for the first time got a glimpse of the other's bottom line. This is a painful but necessary
step towards any eventual agreement.
Difficult step forward
But clinching that final deal won't be easy. Bill Clinton used his personal authority, and his undoubted skills of persuasion,
at Camp David. That is unlikely to be repeated.
Moreover Barak and Arafat face considerable uncertainties as they confront their respective constituencies.
Barak must decide whether to limp forward with a minority government, cobble together a new coalition, or call fresh elections.
Arafat, although for the moment enjoying a hero's welcome, must come up with a new strategy - or else risk becoming the
prisoner of his own September deadline. And he must somehow fend off the argument of those who say the only way to deal with
Israel is through a return to armed struggle.
Camp David has changed the political landscape, but has also plunged the region into a new and uncertain phase.