By Munir K. Nasser
A major Arab American organization in Washington expressed its deep disappointment in a letter to President Clinton for blaming Palestinian President Yasser Arafat for the failure of the Camp David summit.
Khalil Jahshan, Vice President of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), told Albawaba.com that he sent a very firm letter to President Clinton criticizing him for his one-sided assessment of the reasons for the failure of the Camp David talks.
“While we fully understand your personal frustration and that of your administration at the failure of the talks, your single-handedly blaming the Palestinians side for the failure is short-sighted and unacceptable,” Jahshan wrote to Clinton.
Jahshan explained in his letter to Clinton, “with all due respect your characterization of Prime Minister Barak at Camp David as ‘particularly courageous, visionary and having an understanding of the historical importance of this moment’ is far-fetched when one considers the red lines that Mr. Barak has attempted to impose on the Palestinians. Abiding by international law and returning occupied territories to its original owners cannot under any circumstances be described as courageous or visionary. It is simply the right thing to do.”
In his interview with Albawaba.com, Jahshan said the Palestinians have offered the ultimate compromise when they said they are willing to accept peace on the basis of 242, while Barak came to the table and tried to dictate his four red lines.
Jahshan warned that if Arafat announced Palestinian statehood without an agreement with Israel, there would be some legislation in Congress on cutting US aid to the Palestinians.
The following are excerpts from the interview:
Q- Why did you write the letter to President Clinton?
A-I took issue with President Clinton’s statement in which he blamed Arafat for the summit failure. Certainly I understand where his frustration comes from. He spent a lot of effort and energy personally and he thought they were so close to reaching an agreement. But at the same time he needs to understand that the issue is not just an issue of life and death for one side, but also an issue of life and death for both sides.
Q- What is your assessment of the Camp David summit?
A- The results of the summit are not surprising to anybody who basically understood what it takes to reach an agreement. Unfortunately, the Israeli side came in with four red lines that they attempted to dictate to the Palestinian side and somehow the US kind of accepted the Israeli concerns. They tried to bridge the gaps between the two sides but at the same times there was more credibility given by the Clinton Administration to Israeli concerns than to Palestinian concerns. Unfortunately, that found expression in summary remarks in which Clinton leveled the full blame on the Palestinian side. That was what caused the failure of the summit.
Q- Are the Palestinians blamed for not compromising enough to reach a deal?
A- The Palestinians have offered the ultimate compromise when they said they are willing to accept peace on the basis of 242, exchanging land for peace, accepting the state of Israel in its pre-1967 boundaries in return for a state on only 22 percent of historical Palestine. Do we expect Arafat now to compromise when Israel did not compromise for the last several years? Barak came to the table and said these are my four redlines. He came to dictate. He keeps saying Jerusalem, and that implies to me that he has gotten away with his other three red lines.
Q- Some analysts say that Barak did the unthinkable by offering some concessions on Jerusalem , like the shared sovereignty in some Arab neighborhoods.
A- He did not offer to share sovereignty. That was the main impediment. He did not accept or offer to accept the concept of shared sovereignty, which implies that the Palestinians control east Jerusalem and the Israelis control west Jerusalem, and both serve as capital for their respective states and there will be shared sovereignty over the city. I think the Israelis did not accept shared sovereignty. They did offer to expand the boundaries of Jerusalem to give the Palestinians sovereignty over Arab neighborhoods outside the city limits, but then he kind of creates a new Jerusalem that the Palestinians can claim: that part of expanded Jerusalem.
Q- What do you think of the Arab World position on the Camp David summit, and did Arafat get the support he needed?
A- It will be the same Arab world that will come back in a few weeks and condemn Arafat for signing a deal. The support he is getting now is an emotional reaction, which I don’t give much credibility. We keep hearing people saying that Arafat is not entitled to negotiate over Jerusalem, because it is an Islamic and an Arab problem and not a Palestinian issue. What is the Arab position on Jerusalem? What is the Islamic position on Jerusalem? It is no more than an emotional attachment. I don’t know how many Muslims around the world can put their finger on the map and show where Jerusalem is.
Q- Where do you see things going from here? Any chances of resuming the talks in the near future?
A- I am sure it would be in the interest of both parties to continue talking. The problem lies in the fact that events are going to proceed whatever good intentions remain on either side. It doesn’t take very much in a hyped and desperate environment like we find right now in Palestine and in Israel to lead the area to the wrong direction. So I am not that optimistic that they will come back to a summit or pick up what they left at Camp David. That’s easier said than done.
Q- What will the reaction of Congress be if Arafat unilaterally declared a state on September 13?
A- If indeed we get closer to September and Yasser Arafat intends to announce statehood without an agreement with Israel, I think most probably we will see some legislation in Congress that will pass with a majority on cutting US aid to the Palestinians. At this point, some pro-Israel forces in Congress are floating around an idea to slash aid to the Palestinians if Arafat unilaterally declares a state on September 13. They have been circulating some language on who is willing to sign on this.
Q- What about the Americans? What can they do to push the talks forward?
A- The American role has suffered a lot, not necessarily domestically, because the President can get away with it. Yes, he has failed to achieve results, but nobody can blame him because he tried to achieve a very difficult task. On the contrary, his reputation has been enhanced here as a serious, hardworking peacemaker as far as most Americans are concerned. On the international scene, there is no doubt that because of the lack of results his credibility has eroded by the fact that there was no successful conclusion to the summit. Also, the biased approach during the negotiations and the statement made after the summit trying to blame everything on the Palestinians does not bold well – Albawaba.com.
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)