What took place at Camp David in 2000?
The timeline of the 1999 Sharm el-Sheikh Memorandum called for final status negotiations to be completed by September 13, 2000. Talks during late 1999 and the first half of 2000 led to President Clinton’s invitation to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat for a summit at Camp David, Maryland to be convened July 11, 2000.
Barak requested that Clinton call the meeting, feeling that it was important to show that Israel was committed to the Peace Process and that Israel was ready to make the necessary concessions. Barak also felt that the summit was the best place for this, rather than a public exchange of ideas that might be politically hard to constrain. The objective of the summit was to make enough progress on the final status issues so that an agreement could be put together by the September target date.
The meetings were difficult and almost ended prematurely, but President Clinton kept the parties at the negotiating table. The final status issues were the most difficult to resolve: Jerusalem, security, borders and refugees. Sessions lasted late into the nights. Under intense pressure from President Clinton, in an effort to reach a final agreement, and with promises of American support and security guarantees, Prime Minister Barak offered the most substantial concessions and far reaching proposals, going beyond all the long-standing Israeli "red lines", especially as regards Jerusalem. The US team called Barak "courageous" for these offers. When these terms were later revealed in Israel, people were stunned at the extent of the concessions Barak offered and it is unclear whether the Israeli public were prepared to support the deal. However they were never given the opportunity to endorse or reject the proposals; Arafat rejected them out of hand.
The details were not disclosed formally, but according to media reports Barak's offer included:
- Israeli redeployment from 95% of the West Bank and 100% of the Gaza Strip
- The creation of a Palestinian state in the areas of Israeli withdrawal
- The removal of isolated settlements and transfer of the land to Palestinian control
- Other Israeli land exchanged for West Bank settlements remaining under Israeli control
- Palestinian control over East Jerusalem, including most of the Old City
- "Religious Sovereignty" over the Temple Mount, replacing Israeli sovereignty in effect since 1967
In return Arafat had to declare the "end of conflict" and agree that no further claims on Israel could be made in the future. Despite the considerable concessions by Israel, Arafat chose not to negotiate, not to make a counter-offer but to just walk out. This was typical of the Palestinian leader's style: offer nothing, just say no and wait for more concessions. In fact, the Palestinian negotiating team did make concessions during the negotiating process, but Arafat himself never agreed. It was not the specific terms that caused the summit to collapse, but rather the lack of a counterproposal. In addition, Arafat continued to insist on the Palestinian demand for a "right of return" of refugees to Israel, a demand that Israel cannot accept under any peace plan since it would mean the end of Israel as a Jewish state.
The summit ended on July 25, without an agreement being reached. At its conclusion, a Trilateral Statement was issued defining the agreed principles to guide future negotiations. An optimistic summary of the event would be that difficult issues were attacked for the first time and progress was made. But, what really happened at Camp David is that Barak offered astounding compromises in an effort to close a deal while Arafat stuck to the traditional Palestinian positions. The Israelis and Palestinians both lost faith in the process: if there is no deal in this favorable environment, when could there be?
After the close of the meeting, Barak said:
- Israel was ready to reach agreement at a painful price but not at any price.
Arafat made no major statement before leaving the United States, because anything he would say would force him to disagree with Clinton?s assessment that Arafat was at fault for the summit's failure. In the following weeks, the Palestinians, having lost patience with the diplomatic approach, launched the al-Aqsa intifada (September 2000).
During the fall of 2000, with the al-Aqsa intifada raging, there were several more attempts to follow-up on the Camp David negotiations, in Washington and Taba, Egypt in January 2001. Israeli and Palestinian negotiators met again in Washington, but there was no progress for the same reason: Arafat and his team said no to the US-brokered Israeli proposals and had no proposals of their own to offer.
President Clinton, and others who participated, put the blame for the failure of hte talks squarely on Arafat and the Palestinian negotiators. In 2001, Clinton told guests at a party at the Manhattan apartment of former UN ambassador Richard Holbrooke that Arafat called to bid him farewell three days before he left office. "You are a great man," Arafat said. "The hell I am," Clinton said he responded. "I'm a colossal failure, and you made me one."