By Munir K. Nasser
A former US Assistant Secretary of State says he is optimistic about the prospects of success for the Middle East peace summit at Camp David, which will begin on Tuesday.
Richard Murphy, former Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs and an architect of the Camp David peace agreement between Egypt and Israel in 1979, told Albawaba.com in an interview that for the summit to succeed, the Israelis and Palestinians have to change their approaches over the core issues of Jerusalem and the refugees. He said they have to stop “repeating the frozen rigid formulas of the past.”
Murphy, who is currently a Senior Fellow for the Middle East at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, said the Clinton Administration will not recognize a Palestinian state if it was unilaterally declared by Arafat. He also urged the Israelis to stop speaking about Jerusalem as “the eternal, indivisible, exclusive capital of Israel.”
The following are excerpts from the interview:
Q- Are you optimistic about the prospects of success at the summit?
A- I am optimistic because frankly everyone is saying that this is doomed, and it is going to be a failure. I don’t accept that. But it is going to require changes in the approaches of both Israelis and Palestinians. How much they value dealing with each other? I don’t expect Arafat to be gentle with Barak just because Barak has problems in Israel. There is too much at stake for Arafat, and I don’t expect Barak to take it easy on Arafat because he wants a favor in return. It is not going to work like that. They are not going to be swayed from basic principles. Barak is got to go home saying I have brought an arrangement, which gives a better security, a better prospect of living with the people whom we will always live next to. The same with Arafat. But I think it’s doable.
Q- What would happen if the summit failed to reach an agreement?
A- I would predict that if nothing comes out of the Camp David summit, and there is a unilateral declaration of an independent Palestinian state, he wont get American recognition. My best estimate is that Arafat wants US recognition, and Clinton wont just give it if there was no understanding worked out with the Israelis.
Q- Both sides are talking about red lines that they cannot cross. Do you think there will be room for compromise on either side?
A-They are carrying a lot of baggage from the past. And if there is no compromise, there is going to be no deal. Logically, each one is going to have to adjust his position and decide what can be presented successfully to their people, be they Israeli or Palestinian. But if they simply stick to repeating the frozen rigid formulas of the past, there can be no agreement.
Q- What are the chances of success for the summit?
A- I am not pessimistic, and I think there is room for creativity on both sides, and there is room for a creative role for the American President. I don’t know what each is bringing, but certainly from the American side, Clinton will be able to assure them of his best effort to get financial assistance for such agreement. On the political side, he could assure Arafat that if he negotiates independence, he would have American recognition.
Q- Do you think that Barak’s political crisis at home will have an influence at his negotiation position at the summit?
A- Barak has made his position clear from the beginning that his election was directly by the Israeli people, not by the Knesset, and it is unfortunate that the government has lost its majority, sort of pulling the rug from under him just as he is leaving for Camp David. He said he is going to the people for a referendum, and people will decide on what he brings back, not the Knesset.
Q- Do you think that Arafat has the mandate from his people to give concessions at the summit?
A- He has a mandate to negotiate, but he does not have the mandate to abandon positions on the 1948 refugees or Jerusalem. But in a package of agreements, can there be movement on those issues? The baggage is very heavy on both sides, and has the moment been reached in the opinion of Palestinians and the Israelis that peace is going to require some difficult decisions? Neither side will get exactly what they have been talking about for 50 years.
Q- Can Barak be flexible on the core issues of Jerusalem and the refugees?
A- It may be possible to work out something. There are many ideas on Jerusalem and the refugees, but they are not going to go anywhere if people speak, as the Israelis do on Jerusalem: “the eternal, indivisible, exclusive capital of Israel.” If the thought of autonomous Burroughs for the Palestinians exercising authority over their lives in Jerusalem has an appeal, that might be the way to go.
Q- What would be their position on refugees?
A- The Palestinians have been hurt for years by the Israeli position that says every Jew in the world has the right to return; but no Palestinian from 1948 has the right to return, despite the resolutions of UN Security Council and the General Assembly, and by the fact that they left their homes, their villages, and their places of work in 1948, and then again in 1967. If there is a way for Israel to say: “I do not deny the right of return of Palestinians in principle,” that would be a very significant message for the Palestinian side.
Q- There is talking now about a financial package to help settle the refugees.
A- The more people talk about money and percentage of land to be returned, the more difficult it is going to be. The critics of nay agreement are going to say: “they sold out; or bought out, because 90 percent of the land is not a 100 percent of the land. So we insist on that.” So can there be something worked out that in fact involve a swap of land in what is today’s Israel?
Q- What role will President Clinton play in the summit?
A-This is going to be a gamble for President Clinton. The common wisdom, such as it is, is that if there is not a summit and a major effort by all three to reach an agreement, matters could degenerate into violence. The frustration is very high. The summit itself is not your usual summit where you want to be prepared. You want to have understandings worked as much as possible, and let the momentum of the talks and the interaction of the delegates achieve that last bit of progress needed for an agreement. This time they are starting with apparently very large gaps between their positions. That what makes it an unusual summit, but it doesn’t condemn it to failure.
Q- Is there a possibility for them to reach a partial agreement?
A- It is possible to reach a partial agreement with more details on some issues than others and a commitment to pursue whatever issue that proves too difficult. They can say we made some progress, we didn’t reach a full agreement, and we will continue – Albawaba.com
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