The New York Times
Not Arafat's Fault?
By WILLIAM SAFIRE
JUL 30, 2001
WASHINGTON – The negotiators of the process that led to the terrorist war against Israel have independently reached consensus on how to protect their posteriors: because everybody was responsible for last year's failure at Camp David, nobody can be held accountable.
"Many Now Agree," read the front-page New York Times subhead, "That All the Parties, Not Just Arafat, Were to Blame." As house contrarian, count me among the many who do not agree that the blame for the current hostilities can be so soothingly divvied up.
Certainly Ehud Barak's eagerness for a final peace led him to make concessions far beyond what the people of Israel would have accepted. And surely Bill Clinton's trust in his own persuasiveness or desperation for a Nobel Peace Prize drove him to intercede too aggressively. But it is absurd to buy an Arab spinmeister's notion that the Camp David talks collapsed because Barak offended Arafat by paying more attention to Chelsea Clinton at dinner, or President Clinton was too solicitous of Arafat's ambitious younger aides.
The overriding reason for the war against Israel today is that Yasir Arafat decided that war was the way to carry out the often-avowed Palestinian plan. Its first stage is to create a West Bank state from the Jordan River to the sea with Jerusalem as its capital. Then, by flooding Israel with "returning" Palestinians, the plan in its promised final phase would drive the hated Jews from the Middle East.
Ah, but my distrustful judgment is simplistic, according to the nuanced line being peddled by rejected Clinton negotiators, shell-shocked Barak aides and a glad-to-be embattled Arafat. It is in their common interest to portray the abrupt Arab rejection of Barak's too-generous offer at Camp David a year ago as merely a misunderstanding of each other's psychology, compounded by the unfortunate pressures of democratic elections.
According to the tripartite instant revisionism, the underlying reason for the failure of the Camp David meeting last July was the visit of Ariel Sharon to the Temple Mount. That is a tricky point to make because Sharon's visit did not take place until late September. Here is how the imaginative bashers of the "simplistic blame game" surmount their calendar problem.
The Oslo peace process did not come apart at Camp David at all, say the revisionists. Contrary to every press report at the time, Barak did not "offer the moon" to Arafat — he offered only 93 percent of the West Bank, including the strategic Jordan Valley, and a state with East Jerusalem as its capital. That may have been more security risk than the Israeli public would have accepted, but it fell short of "the moon" that Arafat sought.
Not until a meeting in December at the Taba Hilton, run by Israeli superdove Yossi Beilin, with Arab terror attacks in full swing, did Barak offer "the moon": 97 percent of the West Bank, air rights that would lead to denial of Palestinian air space to Israeli aircraft, and a payoff from the U.S. to Palestinian claimants who agreed not to migrate to Israel. But that pie in the sky came too late as the aroused Israeli electorate threw Barak out of office in the most resounding landslide in its history.
In months to come, as Barak, U.S. Ambassador Martin Indyk and the Palestinian crew sell their books, we will be bombarded with the revisionist if-onlys. If only Barak had offered the whole moon at Camp David; if only Clinton had forced Barak to stop all building within settlements; if only Barak had made Sharon the first Jew to be barred by Israel from the Temple Mount; if only those foolish Israeli voters understood the frustration motivating suicide bombers and had re- elected Barak; if only Clinton could have had a third term.
Do not swallow this speculative re- writing of recent events. By arguing that peace can be made only by someday adopting Barak's extreme concessions, revisionists send the unintended message: struggle on, Palestinians! Violence will wear down the Israeli will and the full "moon" will shine again. That empty promise invites unending violence.
Blame is not a game; judgment is not to be avoided or disapproval diluted by pointing fingers in every direction. Nor is conventional wisdom always unwise. The leader predominantly to blame for the campaign of killing was and is Yasir Arafat.
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