Myth of Israel's `Generous Offer' Damages Truth, Peace: Control over Palestinian Territory Was Key to 2000 Proposal, and Arafat Was Right to Reject It. (Viewpoint)

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The myth of then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak's "generous offer" and "Israel's painful concessions" in the summer of 2000, and the consequent portrayal of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat as a "truculent rejectionist" in the mainstream media needs to be examined.

Although an American (Robert Malley) and an Israeli (Ron Pundak), diplomats intimately involved in the Camp David negotiations, went public some 12 months after Camp David with more nuanced versions of what really happened, the "generous offer" continues to be damaging to truth and ultimately to peace. Taken out of context, the question -- "Didn't Barak offer 95 percent of the occupied territories to Arafat at Camp David?" -- is exploited to the fullest and enters the mythology of Israeli propaganda. Repeated enough, people believe it.

So just what was the offer made by Mr. Barak in July 2000?

According to Malley and Pundak, both Barak and Arafat made serious tactical errors based on misperceptions of the other. Neither side exhibited sensitivity to the others' concerns or suffering. Barak wanted to bypass interim agreements and present Arafat with an all-or-nothing proposal, with no fallback options. He presented nothing in writing; proposals were stated verbally.

Conclusions of what proposals might be were drawn from maps. Israel would not return to its 1967 borders. Barak's offer would have left the main Israeli settlements and their Jewish-only bypass roads intact. Palestinian villages would continue to be "islands" isolated from each other, "Bantustans" completely surrounded by Israeli military who could and do blockade entire villages from travel. Except for three villages, Barak excluded the 28 Palestinian villages Israel illegally annexed to Jerusalem. Israel would accept no responsibility for the Palestinian refugee problem. To his credit, Barak broke long-held taboos in discussing Jerusalem and the refugees.

Arafat was reluctant to go into the talks without reasonable assurance of success. President Clinton promised Arafat that if the talks failed, Arafat would not be blamed. Yet, when the talks failed, Clinton placed most of the blame on Arafat and contributed to the misleading, simplistic propaganda of the "generous offer" by Barak, which was then picked up by and carried on in the mainstream media. Given the history of broken promises and increased land confiscation and accelerated settlement expansion under Barak, Arafat didn't trust these verbal promises. He wanted proof of Israel's seriousness in implementing the agreements previously made (and negated by Netanyahu), and feared that in accepting an "all-or-nothing" final status proposal, the entire basis of international legitimacy would be undermined. …