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Barak success two months after camp david { July 26 2001 }

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New York Times
July 26, 2001

Quest for Mideast Peace: How and Why It Failed
Many Now Agree That All the Parties, Not Just Arafat, Were to Blame

JERUSALEM -- Days before the Palestinian uprising erupted in September, Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Yasir Arafat held an unusually congenial dinner meeting in the Israeli’s private home in Kochav Yair.

At one point, Mr. Barak even called President Clinton and, two months after the Camp David peace talks had failed, proclaimed that he and Mr. Arafat would be come the ultimate Israeli-Palestinian peace partners. Within earshot of the Palestinian leader, according to an Israeli participant, Mr. Barak theatrically announced, “I’m going to be the partner of this man even more so than Rabin was,” referring to Yitzhak Rabin, the late Israeli prime minister.

It was a moment that seems incredible in retrospect, now that Mr. Barak talks of having revealed “Arafat’s true face” and Ariel Sharon, the present prime minister, routinely describes the Palestinian leader as a terrorist overlord.

But during the largely ineffectual cease-fire effort now under wayin the Middle East, peace advocates, academics and diplomats have begun excavating such moments to see what can be learned from the diplomacy right before and after the outbreak of violence. Their premise is that any renewal of peace talks, however remote that seems right now, would have to use the Barak-Clinton era as a point of departure or as an object lesson or both.

In the tumble of the all-consuming violence, much has not been revealed or examined. Rather, a potent, simplistic narrative has taken hold in Israel and to some extent in the United States. It says: Mr. Barak offered Mr. Arafat the moon at Camp David last summer. Mr. Arafat turned it down, and then “pushed the button” and chose the path of violence. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is insoluble, at least for the foreseeable future.

But many diplomats and officials believe that the dynamic was far more complex and that Mr. Arafat does not bear sole responsibility for the breakdown of the peace effort.

There were missteps and successes by Israelis, Palestinians and Americans alike over more than seven years of peace talks between the 1993 Oslo interim agreement and the last negotiating sessions in Taba, Egypt, in January.

Mr. Barak did not offer Mr. Arafat the moon at Camp David. He broke Israeli taboos against any discussion of dividing Jerusalem, and he sketched out an offer that was politically courageous, especially for an Israeli leader with a faltering coalition. But it was a proposal that the Palestinians did not believe would leave them with a viable state. And although Mr. Barak said no Israeli leader could go further, he himself improved considerably on his Camp David proposal six months later.

“It is a terrible myth that Arafat and only Arafat caused this catastrophic failure,” Terje Roed-Larsen, the United Nations special envoy here, said in an interview. “All three parties made mistakes, and in such complex negotiations, everyone is bound to. But no one is solely to blame.”

Mr. Arafat is widely blamed for his stubborn refusal to acknowledgepublicly any evolution in the Israeli position, and later to seize quickly the potential contained in the 11th-hour peace package that Mr. Clinton issued in late December.

Mr. Arafat did eventually authorize his negotiators to engage in talks in Taba that used the Clinton proposal as a foundation. Despite reports to the contrary in Israel, however, Mr. Arafat never turned down “97 percent of the West Bank” at Taba, as many Israelis hold. The negotiations were suspended by Israel because elections were imminent and “the pressure of Israeli public opinion against the talks could not be resisted,” said Shlomo Ben-Ami, who was Israel’s foreign minister at the time.

Still, the details of a permanent peace agreement were as clear at Taba as they ever have been, most participants said. So afterward, United Nations and European diplomats scrambled to convene a summit meeting in Stockholm. There, they believed, Mr. Arafat who is known to make decisions only under extreme deadline pressure was prepared to deliver a breakthrough concession on the central issue of the fate of Palestinian refugees, and a compromise was possible on Jerusalem.

For a variety of reasons, the summit meeting never took place. In the Israeli elections in February, Mr. Barak lost resoundingly to Mr. Sharon. It was then that peace moves froze -- not six months earlier at Camp David.

After Camp David: Much Went On Behind the Scenes
Key Israeli and Palestinian negotiators, as well as several American and European diplomats keenly involved in the peace talks of the Clinton-Barak era, were interviewed for this article. Mr.Arafat also gave an interview. Mr. Barak did not; Gadi Baltiansky, his former spokesman, said the former prime minister, who has kept a low profile since his defeat, was unwilling to talk.

Few Israelis, Palestinians or Americans realize how much diplomatic activity continued after the Camp David meeting appeared to produce nothing. Building on what turned out to be a useful base, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators conducted more than 50 negotiating sessions in August and September, most of them clandestine, and most at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem...

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Barak success two months after camp david { July 26 2001 }
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