Dan Meridor’s personal notes from his diary during the Camp David talks published this weekend in Haaretz provide a fascinating peephole for the mundane details of negotiation, peacemaking, and politics.
Shortly after the failure of the Camp David talks and the outbreak of violence, I assumed that Barak, who was never pleased with the outcome, planned this all along. Most of what I read afterwards confirmed this premonition, including Barak’s repeated statements of removing the veil off Arafat’s face. If Meridor had any such impressions, they were left out of the sections of his diary that were published. His impressions of Barak depict a sincere effort to cut a deal and reach a peace agreement that lingered until the last day, and a grave disappointment when the talks fail. It is hard to believe that Barak went to Camp David with such a degree of naïveté – indeed, just as much as it is quite unbelievable that Meridor would buy it.
Nevertheless, thus the story Meridor provides us goes: Barak was willing to reach a compromise at Camp David over Jerusalem, one that the hardliners on his negotiation team (namely Meridor and Elyakim Rubinstein) opposed.
But even according to Meridor, the Clinton Parameters were not much different than what Barak was willing to offer Arafat during the talks. This raises once again the question of the US as a fair broker and its stance in relation to Israel, a question that concerned previous posts regarding Obama and Netanyahu. It is worthwhile considering the similarities between the Clinton-Barak relationship and the Obama-Netanyahu relationship in light of the seeming differences between the two. Indeed, Meridor tells of a rift between Clinton and Barak as well, but all the same, the American presidents align themselves to the Israeli line.
Presuppositions, insinuations and allegations of the power of the Jewish lobby are hardly in place as explanation. More interesting, and Meridor’s account confirms what most people have said previously, is that the Israelis laid concrete offers on the table, which were not reciprocated by Palestinian offers (most people, to exclude the famous Agha-Malley accounts that were published in NYRB at the time). In other words, the American president follows along the lines of the Israeli offer, because he has no counter-offer to try and balance it.
On the other hand, it was interesting to learn from the Meridor account that Barak and Arafat never met alone. In one section it comes across as Barak’s fault and insistence; in another, as Arafat’s.
One may assume that the timing of the publication of these notes is far from coincidental. Meridor notes that Barak claimed that if Arafat would unilaterally declare independence, he would unilaterally annex parts of the West Bank. Barak is once more the Minister of Defense (as he was at the time along with his position as PM), the minister responsible for the Occupied Territories. Once again, “threats” of a Palestinian declaration of independence are drawing attention around the world, gaining hope from left-wing Israelis and peace-activists, stirring concerns by others, and leading to various pressures and debates between Palestinians and World Leaders, and Palestinians and themselves. Arafat played the same trick several years earlier with Barak’s predecessor, Netanyahu, who is once again Prime Minister.
I enjoyed the mundane details, as I said: Meridor’s impression of his cabin; the fact that he shared a room with Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami (one would expect people of that stature to enjoy the privacy of their own room); Meridor’s conversation with and impressions of Chelsea Clinton; and his order not forward calls from outside the retreat, except from his wife (a prohibition that was bypassed by Israeli reporter Keren Neubach, leading Meridor to suspect she identified herself as his wife to the operator). Such sketches remind us that the fate of negotiations is ultimately in the hands of humans, infallible and limited like the rest of us.
I will continue to hold that Barak thought that another round of violence was unavoidable, and that undoing Oslo was good. But everything else remains open: to what end? What did Arafat hope to gain by that round of violence? What would Barak have done differently had he stayed in power, and after the Oslo agreements were de facto annulled? What would he have done had Arafat accepted the Clinton parameters? We may never know.