Richard Haass: Palestinians are not Ready to Take Half a Loaf
By Munir K. Nasser
A former policy maker in the Bush administration says the Camp David summit may lead to a framework agreement, but not to a full-fledged agreement or failure.
Richard Haass, Former Special Assistant to President George Bush and Senior Director for Near East at the National Security Council (1989-93) said that the summit will produce “a de facto new Oslo agreement that would essentially move this process along, provide enough progress and enough momentum and enough sense of optimism.”
Haass, currently Director of Foreign Policy Studies at the Brookings Institution in Washington, was speaking at a press briefing at Brookings on the prospects of the Camp David peace summit.
Haass stated that what Barak has been suggesting is “far more generous and far more comprehensive than any Israeli government at any time has ever put forward.” But he believes the “gaps are still quite large …and I don't see a lot of capacity to compromise."
He pointed out that on the Palestinian side, he sees no evidence of serious preparation of the Palestinian public for compromise. “Instead, we have had a lot of positions talking about, not simply going back to the '67 lines but even beyond those lines. And I simply do not think right now the Palestinian polity is psychologically and politically prepared for taking half or two-thirds of a loaf,” he stated
Haass believes in a framework agreement, the Israelis would agree, in principle or conditionally, to the creation of a Palestinian state but with certain ceilings or limits on its capacities. This might include some greater Israeli territorial transfer and an agreement by the Palestinians not to take unilateral action, essentially not to declare a state unilaterally on September 13th,” he said.
He excluded the possibility of resolving the core dispute between Israel and the Palestinians, essentially having a treaty that would resolve their conflict once and for all. “I would describe the prospects for that happening as remote, and I say that despite the extremely generous Israeli position that is reported to be on the table,” he said.
Haass said people have to be careful with saying that this is another Camp David. “The geography is the same, but there are important differences,” he explained. “You have got much weaker leaders politically, than you had at the time of Camp David. Mr. Arafat is not in the position, say, of President Sadat; Mr. Barak is not anything like as strong as Prime Minister Begin.”
He argued that in this case, the issues are much tougher than the first Camp David. “At Camp David I, we were basically dealing with desert and strategic real estate; largely unpopulated or the population density was very low; very few settlements, very few settlers,” he said. “Think of the difference here: We are dealing with territory that's not just strategically important but is theologically important, psychologically important. You are dealing with 200,000 settlers and over a hundred settlements. You are dealing with the holiest places in Judaism, very holy places in Islam,” he added.
Haass believes the possibility of a complete failure at the summit is unlikely. He predicted that abject failure would have serious consequences: “September 13th would have a growing momentum towards the sense of crisis. You'd have heated rhetoric on the Palestinian side, all sorts of military contingency planning on the Israeli side, including land annexation, perhaps closure of the territories.”
As for the United States, Haass thinks it should play the role of an active mediator, and discourage public comments and leaks. He urged the Clinton Administration to try to keep down the size of the delegations, and ban the use of cellular phones. According to him, “this may, ironically enough, prove to be one of the greatest challenges to success at Camp David, too, and one area where technology does not seem to have helped peace processes.”
Haass claims that because “what the Israelis have put on the table is remarkably generous, an awful lot of the US pressure, or active mediation, has to be on the Palestinians.” He argues that he has not seen serious movement in the Palestinian position: “I think the goal is to get the Palestinians to be more forthcoming. And I don't think at this point simply floating new ideas, which are still going to be short of what the Palestinians say it is their need; I don't see how this strengthens Mr. Barak's hand, particularly given his domestic politics at home. He has to be careful that he avoids a situation where everything he suggests is not enough for the Palestinians but too much for his erstwhile coalition partner.”
Haass thinks that Arafat is in a position to walk away from the summit without an agreement and say he wouldn't sell the birthright of the Palestinian people. “It's more difficult for Barak to do that, because it seems to me it's hard for him to ultimately face the polls as the peace candidate who couldn't deliver. So I think he's in a more problematic situation,” he explained.
In response to a question on what can be expected of Clinton and what are the cards he has to play at the summit, Haass said he can help in coming up with bridging positions and packages. “Sometimes in negotiations it actually helps to make it more, not less, complicated, because you can give people trade-offs. What they can't in area one they can get in area two,” he pointed out.
He remarked that “the United States has lots of carrots in the way of--whether it's in strategic operation with Israel, all sorts of military and technological transfers that could be made; in terms of aid packages, trade arrangements; to essentially go out and beat the drum around the world for financial packages to help, in particular, a new Palestinian state.”
He suggested that Clinton is going to have to speak to the American public and the Congress about financial packages. He believes that there are rumblings in congress and “where people aren't quite prepared for the price tag that may come.” He said, “The United States is going to have to be prepared to take out its wallet, as are the Europeans, as are the Arab governments, the oil producers, as is Japan and others. I would hope that Mr. Clinton would use the bully pulpit that is the Oval Office to prepare the American public and the Congress for what we may be asked to do.”
When asked about the possibility of sending military equipment or troops for peacekeepers in this transition, Haass said there are some things the United States would uniquely do, such as providing Israel with certain types of military and intelligence transfers to make them feel compensated in the security realm adequately. As for military troops, he said he would not foresee peacekeepers in this type of an arrangement. “This is not analogous to the Sinai or even the Golan. The distances are too small. The Israelis and the Palestinians, if this is going to work, cannot depend upon international peacekeepers. It has got to work on its own merits,” he said -- Albawaba.com
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