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International Security 28.2 (2003) 5-43

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Visions in Collision
What Happened at Camp David and Taba?

Jeremy Pressman

Many officials and analysts have inaccurately portrayed the Israeli-Palestinian-U.S. summit at Camp David in July 2000 and subsequent negotiations. Based on this inaccurate portrayal, a number of observers have argued that a negotiated settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not possible at this time. This article addresses the inaccuracies of this dominant narrative and offers a different understanding of Israeli-Palestinian relations in 2000 (and January 2001) that, in turn, suggests that the door to Israeli-Palestinian political talks is open.

After the Camp David summit, Israel and some U.S. officials told a story about what happened that was widely accepted in Israel and the United States. According to this dominant version of the events at Camp David, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak made a generous offer to the Palestinian negotiators who rejected it without even putting forth a counterproposal. At Camp David, Barak offered a Palestinian state in the Gaza Strip and more than 90 percent of the West Bank, a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem, shared control of the Temple Mount/Noble Sanctuary in Jerusalem's Old City, and a commitment to withdraw many Israeli settlements from the West Bank. The Israeli version continues that Palestinian leaders rejected Barak's offer and the diplomatic route to a peaceful settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Instead, they tried to destroy Israel by pressing throughout the Israeli-Palestinian talks for the return of millions of Palestinian refugees to Israel and by launching the second intifada, or uprising, in September 2000. 1 [End Page 5]

The Palestinian version of the Camp David summit, other high-level Israeli-Palestinian talks, and the outbreak of the second intifada has been far less influential in Israel and the United States. According to Palestinian negotiators, Israel's offer at Camp David did not remove many of the vestiges of the Israeli occupation in terms of land, security, settlements, and Jerusalem. Despite Israel's intransigence, these negotiators continued, the Palestinian Authority (PA), the governing entity of the semiautonomous Palestinian areas in Gaza and the West Bank, preferred negotiations to violence. They argued that the PA did not launch the intifada. Rather it was caused by factors under Israel's control, including: frustration from continued Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands despite the 1993 and 1995 Oslo peace agreements; the visit of Ariel Sharon, leader of Israel's Likud opposition, to the Temple Mount/Noble Sanctuary on September 28, 2000; and the heavy-handed response of Israeli forces to the resulting Palestinian protest.

In this article I argue that neither the Israeli nor the Palestinian version of the events at Camp David and subsequent talks is wholly accurate. The Pales-tinian version, however, is much closer to the evidentiary record of articles, interviews, and documents produced by participants in the negotiations, journalists, and other analysts. Israel did make an unprecedented offer at Camp David, but it neglected several elements essential to any comprehensive settlement, including: the contiguity of the Palestinian state in the West Bank, full sovereignty in Arab parts of East Jerusalem, and a compromise resolution on the right of return of Palestinian refugees. Moreover, despite Israeli contentions, Palestinian negotiators and much of the Palestinian nationalist movement favored a genuine two-state solution and did not seek to destroy Israel either by insisting on the right of return or through the second intifada.

The Palestinian version has two shortcomings. First, the PA did not give credit to Israel for the evolution in its negotiating position from the Camp David summit to the talks in Taba, Egypt, in January 2001 on issues such as the territorial contiguity of the West Bank and Palestinian sovereignty in East Jerusalem. [End Page 6] By the time of the Taba negotiations, Israel was much more cognizant of the compromises that it would need to make to end the occupation. Second, the Palestinian explanation for the outbreak of the second intifada was accurate in part. It neglected two crucial...


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