Exactly 20 years ago at Camp David, PLO rejected peace plan with 92% West Bank, 100% Gaza, land swap and capital in East Jerusalem. Bill Clinton banged on table and told Arafat "You are leading your people and the region to a catastrophe.” PLO has continued its downward spiral. pic.twitter.com/OcMQLKH8FY— Avi Kaner (@AviKaner) July 16, 2020
20 years ago today, I participated as a member of the Israeli delegation to the Camp David Summit. Holding the foreign policy portfolio in the Prime Minister's Office, I arrived in advance to meet with Sandy Berger and other key officials to prepare for this trilateral gathering.A few days later, President Clinton arrived with Prime Minister Barak and Chairman Arafat. I warned Barak this maybe nothing more than a photo-op. Despite entering into negotiations, Palestinians still took anti-Israel resolutions to the UN and incited violence against Israelis.Clinton sat in his armchair, wearing eyeglasses, taking notes in a yellow notepad. Barak began making concessions. Another day, another concession. Yet Arafat didn't move. He sat like a sphinx. Clinton got angry: "Mr. Chairman, this isn't how you negotiate. Give a counter-offer."But Arafat didn't give a counter-offer. He either sat still or rejected what was offered. Meanwhile, back home in Israel, Barak faced enormous political pressure. Barak knew if he returned to Israel without a deal, his political career would be over. He was desperate for a deal.Late one night, Barak summoned the Israeli delegation to his cabin. He informed us that he would be putting Jerusalem on the table. You could see the tears in his eyes. This was clearly something he didn't want to. Nearly all of us advised him against this. But he insisted on it.The next morning, Barak went ahead and put Jerusalem on the table. Clinton was shocked - the Israelis, including his chaver Yitzhak Rabin, had always spoken of a united Jerusalem. Barak offered East Jerusalem as well as 3/4 of the Old City,minus the Kotel and the Jewish Quarter."What about Al-Aqsa and Haram al-Sharif?" Arafat asked, referring to the Temple Mount. Thinking to myself, I was certain Barak would surely keep it under Israeli sovereignty. Clinton clearly also expected the same. It's the holiest site in Judaism. But Barak surprised us again.Barak, a mathematician by training, offered Arafat "split-sovereignty" over the Temple Mount. Israel would be sovereign underground, where there are archaeological remnants of two Jewish Temples. The Palestinians would be sovereign above ground, with Dome of the Rock and Al Aqsa.Clinton was excited. For him, this was an amazing offer. Better than he had ever hoped for. He would surely win a Nobel Prize. But Arafat sat still for nearly a minute. Clinton's excitement ceased. He had a stern look on his face. He turned to Arafat: "Mr. Chairman, your answer?"Everyone in the room stared at Arafat, who didn't know what to say. He hadn't envisioned or prepared for such a scenario. Finally he spoke: "I am sorry but I cannot accept this offer. There was never a Jewish Temple, so I cannot accept any Israeli presence. Not even underground."By that moment we knew it was all over. There would be no deal. Barak was silent, contemplating the end of his political career. But Clinton was up in arms. He became angry and raised his voice: "Never a Jewish Temple? Mr. Chairman, do you mean to tell me that my Bible is wrong?"Clinton was devastated. He continued yelling at Arafat. "Well, let me tell you something, Mr. Chairman: When my Messiah Jesus Christ walked on the Temple Mount, he didn't see any Mosques. He didn't see Al-Aqsa. He didn't see the Dome of the Rock. He saw only the Jewish Temple!"Arafat stormed out of the meeting and left Camp David a few hours later. Clinton and Barak spoke shortly before we packed our things and headed home. Clinton later wrote in his book: "Arafat missed the opportunity to bring that nation into being.....in a just and lasting peace."Abba Eban said "the Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity."They said no in 1937, 1947, 1967, 2000, 2008, 2014 and 2020.Israel won't wait forever for the Palestinians. Arab States won't wait either. If needed, we'll move on without them. Shabbat Shalom.