By Munir K. Nasser
Bill Quandt, former member of the National Security Council in the Carter Administration, said that Palestinian President Yasser Arafat’s strategy of expecting much from US president Bill Clinton is fruitless.
“He is making a mistake, but that is his strategy now,” he said.
However, the former official said that Clinton needs to pressure both Arafat and Barak to focus on the final agreement, and stop arguing about details of the interim agreements.
Quandt, who was one of the architects of the Camp David Peace Accords, told Albawaba.com in an interview that Clinton needs to convince Barak that a final agreement has to be much better than 80 or 90 percent, “it has to be in the 95 percent of the territory range.”
He said that by concentrating on the third stage withdrawal, Arafat might think that he does not have much confidence that the final agreement is going to be easy to reach. “He wants to make sure that if the talks breakdown he will at least have 90 percent of the territory,” he said. “He may be right, but I don’t think he is going to get 80 or 99 percent of the territory in the third withdrawal. That’s more likely to be about all he can get in a final agreement, given the Israeli position.”
The following are excerpts from the interview:
Q: Do you think the US mediators are scrambling to prevent a breakdown in the negotiations in Washington?
A: I am not too concerned about the breakdown of the talks at Bolling Air Force base. I don’t think that’s where the agreement, if there ever is one, will be forged. What I think Arafat wants, and he has said this explicitly, that he wants more American involvement, and he wants the United States to use its influence with the Israelis and with Prime Minister Barak, to come up with a more generous vision of the kind of peace that will eventually exist between the Palestinians and the Israelis. I think Arafat is counting heavily on Clinton. He is making a mistake, but that is his strategy now.
Q: Do you think Arafat is in favor of a summit in Washington?
A: Arafat wants this summit meeting and I don’t think he has a lot of patience for the American argument that you have to prepare the ground, and have to have all the preliminaries. He knows that he is going to make the decisions on the Palestinian side and he knows that Barak is going to make them on the Israeli side. I think he wants to get on with it and not waste time, as he sees it, with these preliminaries.
Q: Why do you think Arafat is concentrating on the issue of the third stage withdrawal from the West Bank?
A: That is an issue that I don’t understand well. He seems preoccupied by it. The reason I don’t understand it, not that I don’t believe that it is legitimate to want the Israelis to carry it out, but there is never been a concrete agreement on the extent of that withdrawal. So you can spend a lot of time trying to work out the details on that, or you can work out the details on a final agreement and in a sense subsume the third stage of withdrawal into the final agreement. I guess by concentrating on the third stage withdrawal, it makes one think that he does not have much confidence that the final agreement is going to be easy to reach, and he wants to make sure that if the talks breakdown he will at least have 90 percent of the territory. He may be right, but I don’t think he is going to get 80 or 99 percent of the territory in the third withdrawal. That’s more likely to be about all he can get in a final agreement, given the Israeli position.
Q: Do you think Clinton is putting enough pressure on both sides to compromise?
A: I think that Clinton, if he wants a final agreement, he needs to tell Arafat the time has come to focus on the final agreement, and he needs to convince Barak that a final agreement has to be much better than 80 or 90 percent, it has to be in the 95 percent of the territory range. A kind of generous vision of peace rather than a grudging vision of peace. That is the only way it is going to work. It doesn’t seem to me that either political leader has quite gotten into that frame of mind. I think they are still feeling very threatened by their critics who see them as making too many concessions.
Q: What is your vision of a US role in a final settlement?
A: One of the roles the United States can play is presumably is to somehow how make the compromise as a little less painful to both of them and to give them some incentive that they can answer their critics and say: ‘yes we have to give something up, but look what we have got in return?’ I would like to see Clinton drop all this argument about ripening and tell the peace partners ‘we need to have a summit because we don’t agree. Lets go for the serious and, and if necessary, fairly long negotiations at the highest level. It is true it may fail, because there is no guarantee in this business. It was also true in Camp David; we didn’t know it would succeed. If we can’t do it now, it is not going to get easier a year or two years from now. Let’s not waste any more time. That doesn’t seem to be the argument. Clinton wants to be reassured in advance that there is a high probability of something that he can call success.
Q: What are the difficult sticking issues between the two sides?
A: What really causes the problem there isn’t much overlap in the two issues of what a peace settlement would look like. For Arafat and most Palestinians, the minimum acceptable outline is most of the West Bank and Gaza including East Jerusalem, right of some refugees to return and the rest getting generous compensation, removal of settlements in Palestinian areas. That is really very far from what I think Barak has as a vision, which is giving up much less territory, nothing of significance in Jerusalem, no right of return, and it is not Israel’s responsibility to give compensation. You put those two lists side by side and there is disagreement on four or five big issues, not little issues. In contrast, the Syrian Israeli negotiations look much, much closer. They differ over 200 yards. On this one, on a lot of key issues, you get the impression they really haven’t found a way to bridge differences yet. And I don’t think it is going to happen at Bolling Air Force base – Albawaba.com
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