The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Friday, May 17, 2002  

Actually, Arafat Is Quite Capable of Making Peace

Nicholas Kristof has an outstanding essay in today’s New York Times entitled “ Is Arafat Capable of Peace?”

Among the many attributes of Kristof’s piece is his demolishment of the myth of the Barak plan, the July 2000 proposal rejected by Yasir Arafat that for years now as been used as a plank to beat up the Palestinian leader for his alleged unwillingness to make peace with Israel.

Kristof notes that in July 2000 then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and then-President Bill Clinton put forth a “path-breaking peace plan” that would establish a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital.

Despite its novel features, the plan was flawed, taking at least 9 percent of the West Bank away from the Palestinians, but more important, would deprive them of water resources, good land, and almost completely divided by an Israeli annexation running east from Jerusalem. “It is reasonable to question whether it would have created a viable state,” writes Kristof.

President Clinton blamed the failure of the Barak plan on Arafat, “partly in an effort to boost Mr. Barak’s re-election prospects,” according to Kristof.

Arafat’s error: not offering a counterproposal. Though the Israelis and Americans brought forward better proposals, including President Clinton’s plan to give the Palestinians all of Gaza and rought 97 percent of the West Bank. Arafat again failed to accept the proposal outright. Later, talks continued in Taba, Egypt, “and by all accounts made considerable progress,” Kristol maintains.

The Taba talks, however, were suspended because of the approaching Israeli election. In a statement both the Palestinians and the Israelis said they had never been closer to an agreement, adding “it is thus our shared belief that the remaining gaps could be bridged” after the Israeli election, Kristof reports. “But (mostly because of Palestinian violence) Ariel Sharon won, and is unwilling even to consider such a deal,” he adds.

Kristof’s conclusion is fair and even-handed, and unlikely to be well received by those policymakers, commentators, and other interested parties who have staked their claim to dump on the Palestinians on the alleged brilliance of the Barak Bantustan proposal:

“[I]t is fair to fault Mr. Arafat for lacking the courage to strike a deal at Taba; for being a maddening, vacillating and passive negotiator; for condoning violence that unseated the best Israeli peace partner the Palestinians could have had. But the common view in the West that Mr. Arafat flatly rejected a reasonable peace deal, and that it is thus pointless to attempt a strategy of negotiation, is a myth.” [Ed.: Emphasis added.]

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