There were calls last week by legislators for an inquiry into whether their country was led into war unnecessarily, on the basis of manipulated intelligence data. No, it's not American, British, Australian or Micronesian lawmakers questioning the invasion of Iraq, it's members of the Israeli Knesset questioning the rationale behind the Israeli government's policy of pursuing a solely military solution to its conflict with the Palestinians, and eschewing negotiations on the grounds that "there is no-one to talk to".
The failure of the Camp David Summit in July 2000 was bound to be a watershed in Israeli-Palestinian relations, but it didn't have to lead to a bloody war of attrition. It had to be a watershed because it marked the end of the road for Israeli attempts to have the Palestinians settle for "autonomy" rather than full independence. Palestinian autonomy under ultimate Israeli control had been the preferred outcome for Israel in the Occupied Territories ever since the first Camp David Summit that brought peace to Israel and Egypt in 1978. Camp David II was the culmination of that process, as it represented probably the most generous offer that Israel could make to the Palestinians, without finally giving up control over them. If the Palestinians could not be induced to accept the autonomy that was on the table at Camp David (which they couldn't), then there was no autonomy that they were going to sign on for, period.
With autonomy finally rejected as an end goal of negotiations, Israeli policy towards the Palestinians could go one of two ways:
1. Israel (and the US) could finally come to terms with a genuine two state solution based on two fully independent nations and the implementation of international law. This was the direction that President Clinton moved in, when he prepared the Clinton Parameters that were the basis of the Taba talks and, subsequently, the basis of the Geneva Accords.
2. Armed with overwhelming military superiority, Israel had the option of holding the Palestinians solely responsible for the failed peace process, and attempting to impose upon them by force the kind of autonomous arrangement that they would not voluntarily sign up for at Camp David. For PM Ehud Barak, the option of blaming Arafat was attractive because it allowed him to evade any responsibilty for the failure of Camp David: "It was convenient for him to explain his failure by a distorted description of the reality", as the former head of Israeli Military Intelligence put it. Although that didn't save Barak in the Feb 2001 elections, it did allow him to preserve his political career (he apparently sees himself returning to the Israeli premiership in 2006). For Barak's successor, Ariel Sharon, this option was appealing as Sharon has never believed in a two state solution anyway. It allowed him to evade negotiations, which he knew would lead him somewhere he had no intention of going, and to resort instead to the imposition of a unilateral "one-and-a-half-state solution". And for those Israelis who wanted peace, but were not truly reconciled to the fact that this really did demand an end to Occupation, this alternative had its attractions too.
Justification for resorting to the military option over negotiations relied on two myths: "The Generous Offer" and "We Have No Partner For Peace/No-One To Talk To". The logic goes like this: "Barak offered the Palestinians at Camp David everything they said they wanted in an independent state alongside Israel. Arafat turned it down and resorted to violence instead, by launching the intifada. By turning down Barak who offered him everything, Arafat showed he did not want the two state solution, but wants it all. You cannot negotiate with someone whose real goal is the destruction of Israel, therefore we have no-one to talk to. So negotiation is pointless, and we have no choice but to use force".
So the two myths are separate, but part of a single rationale. This is the rationale that has dominated Israeli government policy towards the Palestinians, and been the dominant view in Israeli public opinion, for the last three-and-a-half years.
I'm not going to dissect the "Generous Offer" here, as this post deals specifically with the "no-one to talk to" myth. Besides, the "Generous Offer" has been debunked amply elsewhere, including these online offerings:
Camp David: The Tragedy Of Errors by Robert Malley; The New York Review of Books, 9 Aug 2001
Fictions About the Failure at Camp David by Robert Malley; NY Times, 8 July 2001
The Real Deal: Israel's View That Arafat Missed A Chance For Peace Under Barak Is Dangerously Deluded, by Ewen McAskill; The Guardian, 14 Apr 2001
Was Arafat The Problem At Camp David 2000? by Robert Wright; Slate, 18 Apr 2002
The Palestinian Peace Offer by Jerome M. Segal; Ha'aretz, 1 Oct 2001
Misrepresentation Of Barak's Offer At Camp David As "Generous" And "Unprecedented" by Nigel Parry; ei, 20 Mar 2002
Generous To Whom? by Mustapha Barghouti; al-Ahram, 10 May 2001
Just Half A Loaf For Arafat by Sunanda K. Datta-Ray; The Hindu Business Line, 2 Aug 2000
The Israeli Camp David II Proposals for Final Settlement; Mid East Web, 2002
Camp David Peace Proposal of July, 2000: Frequently Asked Questions, by the PLO Negotiations Affairs Department, 26 Jul 2001
The Reality of Barak's "Generous" Offers (Flash); by Gush Shalom
Ending the Death Dance by Richard Falk; The Nation, 29 Apr 2002
A Different Take on Camp David Collapse by Lee Hockstader; Washington Post, 24 Jul 24, 2001
This Peace Offer Is An Insult To Palestinians by Scott Burchill; The Australian, 12 Oct 2000
The 94 Percent Solution: A Matrix of Control by Jeff Halper; Middle East Report #216, Fall 2000
So much for the "Generous Offer".
The second myth, "no-one to talk to", has its roots in the intelligence assessments prepared by Israeli Military Intelligence (MI) on the subject of Arafat’s strategic goals and negotiating aims, as briefed to the Israeli Cabinet in the run-up to Camp David and through to Taba by the then-head of the MI Research Division (and second-in-command of MI), Maj. Gen. Amos Gilad. Gilad briefed successive Israeli governments that Arafat was a strategic threat to Israel, who never believed in the two-state solution, but in the destruction of Israel through terror and an unrestricted right of return; he entered negotiations only as a ploy to deceive Israel, not as a genuine interlocutor seeking a solution to the conflict.
This assessment by MI was not undisputed. Israel's General Security Service (GSS/Shin Bet) disagreed with the claim that Arafat was seeking the destruction of Israel through demographics rather than a two-state solution by negotiation, as well as with the assessment that the intifada was deliberately launched to try to bring this about. The GSS warned as early as the Netanyahu government of 1997 that if Arafat seemed reluctant to take on Hamas and Islamic Jihad, it was not because he shared their strategic goal of the destruction of Israel, but because the Netanyahu government was very visibly backsliding on its own Oslo obligations: Arafat had no incentive to cooperate with Israel on fighting terror, if Israel at the same time was reneging on its own commitments and boosting incentives for Israelis to settle the land that was supposed to become the Palestinian state (Schiff: "A Flaw in Strategic Thinking", Ha'aretz 14 Nov 97; cit. Shlaim "The Iron Wall", Ch 15 note 12). Taking on Hamas and Islamic Jihad under these circumstances would have simply made Arafat in the eyes of his own people a security contractor for Israel's ongoing occupation of the Palestinian Territories.
Throughout the Oslo years, Israeli journalists such as Amira Hass of Ha’aretz also warned repeatedly that the peace process looked very different to Israelis (whose quality of life generally improved) than it did to Palestinians, for whom the “peace” years saw greater illegal settlement of their land than the previous 20 years of occupation had done, and who were subject to a much more intrusive military regime of restrictions, permits and closures than they had experienced at any time since 1967. Danny Rabinowitz took up the theme of the intifada as a grassroots uprising against this reality, rather than a ploy by the Palestinian leadership, in Before and after Oslo, commenting:
Many people in Israel and elsewhere believe that the Oslo process was a correct step that failed because of unworthy Palestinian leadership and increasing religious extremism. This view, which depicts the 1990s as an interlude of peace between two blood-soaked periods, requires reexamination.
..[A]part from the elite around Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat, most Palestinians have not experienced Oslo as a peace process. Instead of hope, they received militaristic strangulation from Israel, a corrupt self-government that depends on Israel in a humiliating way, and prolonged poverty. The long and the short of it is that the Palestinian hope for peace and independence had collapsed long before September 2000. The movement of tanks into positions in the slopes of the cities was for them a direct continuation of a process that began in 1994.
The possibility that the intifada came as a reaction to fundamental flaws in the Oslo process, and not as Palestinian madness that truncated an era of peace and roses before its time, is interesting not only as an intellectual exercise. It is also important for the purpose of more successful planning of a peace process in the medium and long run. And it is no less important in the immediate run in order to understand the absence of any connection between the Sharon-style unilateral disengagement and peace.
And, in the wake of the Knesset’s investigation into the poor quality of MI assessments of Iraqi capabilities immediately before Gulf War II, Uzi Benziman wondered in December 2003 about the possibility that ideologically-driven intelligence was driving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. He pointed out that the very same intelligence “experts” who produced the false estimates of Iraq's non-conventional weapons capability were responsible for keeping Israel’s political leadership informed about prevailing trends in the Palestinian Authority. These officials enjoy a presumption of credibility, professionalism and objectivity in Israeli society, and are assumed to deploy highly sophisticated means of keeping tabs on what's going on with the enemy. And yet,
[t]he very same officials who concluded emphatically that Saddam possessed chemical-biological weapons, and who even warned about the possible use of such weapons against Israel, warn today that Yasser Arafat's master plan is to destroy Israel. The same officials who forecasted definitively that the "ground will shake" when American troops reach Iraq and uncover weapons of mass destruction are today warning, with great internal conviction, that Arafat views himself as a latter-day Saladin, whose purpose is to drive the Jews from the Holy Land.
The layman assumes that such emphatic diagnoses of Arafat's aims are based upon wiretapped recordings, systematic analyses of his statements, and reliable leaks about his conversations with associates. The same measure of credence was in effect when people believed that intelligence estimates of the threat posed by Iraq had a solid evidentiary foundation; but it now turns out that these estimates about Iraq had no empirical basis. Rather than being founded on solid information, the estimates relied on probability and circumstantial evidence. This experience regarding Iraq raises questions about the empirical foundations of intelligence reports that purport to unveil Arafat's inner world, his aims, goals and hopes.
-- Uzi Benzimann, When The Army Takes Off Its Uniform
So there have been Israeli voices raised in opposition to Amos Gilad's "no-one to talk to" axiom over the past four years, but not many of them. In the heightened tension of the intifada, "no-one to talk to" has been readily accepted by an Israeli public receptive to an explanation that demonizes Arafat as the source of all Israel's woes, and it has been wholeheartedly embraced by a Likud government that has no use for peace talks anyway, and therefore requires no partner for peace. In the words of IDF General Amos Malka: "What Gilad said suited them better, and therefore they adopted it." The result is that "no-one to talk to" has become so established in Israeli thought, it even has it's own epithet in the intelligence community: it is simply the konseptzia (the concept).
This near-consensus view was recently rudely broken, however, by the aforementioned Gen. Malka, who was head of Military Intelligence (and therefore Gilad’s superior) during the last days of peace negotiations and the first days of the intifada. He publicly revealed on 11 June 2004 that the apocalyptic view of Arafat and the Palestinians that Gilad apparently briefed to the Israeli Cabinet was not actually based on the professional assessments of MI at all, but on Gilad’s own hardline political opinions, which were readily adopted by Prime Ministers Barak and Sharon because they fit so well their respective political needs. Malka accused Gilad of presenting his own views as being the professional assessment of MI, when in fact they were diametrically opposed to what MI’s official assessments really indicated. Gilad’s oral presentations to the Cabinet were much more influential than MI’s written reports, because in the Israeli Cabinet only the PM and Defense Minister had access to the written reports, while everyone received Gilad’s briefings.
So, according to Gen. Malka, what was the official MI assessment of Arafat at the time when Gilad was insisting that Arafat had deliberately sabotaged the peace process and resorted to violence to destroy Israel? Malka indicated that MI’s considered opinion was that “Arafat prefers a diplomatic process”. He is not intrinsically opposed to using limited violence as a shock tactic when all diplomatic avenues are closed (e.g. as Shin Bet noted, he would not clamp down on Hamas while the Netanyahu government systematically failed to meet its Oslo obligations), but he had no strategic plan for a violent confrontation with Israel. He was primarily interested in making real progress through negotiations, and far from trying to destroy Israel through an unlimited right of return, was willing to settle for a token return of refugees so long as this was within the context of an overall agreement. When the intifada erupted, MI believed it to be spontaneous, and not planned by the Palestinian leadership. Arafat may have hoped to exploit it as a shock tactic, but if so he misjudged it, because within two or three days the intifada had gained so much momentum from pent-up grassroots anger that it would have been impossible for Arafat to oppose the street by trying to fight it.
MI believed that a negotiated agreement with Arafat was eminently possible: "We assumed that it is possible to reach an agreement with Arafat under the following conditions: a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital and sovereignty on the Temple Mount; 97 percent of the West Bank plus exchanges of territory in the ratio of 1:1 with respect to the remaining territory; some kind of formula that includes the acknowledgement of Israel's responsibility for the refugee problem and a willingness to accept 20,000-30,000 refugees. All along the way ... it was MI's assessment that he had to get some kind of statement that would not depict him as having relinquished this [ie the right of return], but would be prepared for a very limited implementation." In other words, MI’s professional assessment was that Arafat was seeking exactly the kind of deal that was being crafted at Taba when those talks were suspended, and whose contours were subsequently outlined in the Geneva Accord.
Malka insists that MI always believed that Arafat wanted a negotiated deal: its assessment was not altered by the outbreak of the intifada, and was shared by other Israeli agencies including Shin Bet, the Mossad, the Foreign Ministry and the office of the coordinator of activities in the Occupied Territories. Malka is convinced that today too, if Israel offers Arafat a state in 97 percent of the territories, with East Jerusalem/al-Quds as the capital, exchanges of territory and the return of 20,000-30,000 refugees, he will accept. Malka asserts, in conclusion: I say, with full responsibility, that during my entire period as head of Military Intelligence, there was not a single research department document that expressed the assessment that Gilad claims to have presented to the prime minister.
And what was Maj. Gen. Gilad’s response to Malka’s accusations that Gilad’s briefings represented only himself and not the intelligence community whose views he was supposed to be presenting? "I would have no problem if 1,000 people thought differently than I. That still doesn't mean that they're right.”
Well, 1000 people didn’t come forward to accuse Gilad, but on 13 June IDF Colonel Ephraim Lavie spoke out. Lavie was the head of the Palestinian section in the research division of MI (and therefore Gilad’s direct subordinate) from 1998 to 2002, and was closely involved in all the stages of the final status negotiations, and in formulating MI’s intelligence assessments, right through to the collapse of the political process and the outbreak of the intifada. Lavie’s comments were devastating to Gen. Gilad, backing up in every respect Gen. Malka’s claims that in his briefings to the Israeli cabinet Gilad had manipulated MI’s intelligence findings to suit the political preferences of the government of the day.
During the last three years we have developed as an axiom the concept that Arafat rejected Israel's generous offer during negotiations and went to a war that Arafat planned and initiated as part of a plan exposed at Camp David and in the intifada - to defeat Israel through the right of return and the demographic advantage and constitute `Greater Palestine.' Based on that concept, Israel set its policies toward the Palestinians, with the general result being a political and security deadlock with the Palestinians.
The question is whether that concept is really based on credible, accurate foundations.
I can unequivocally state that the written, official assessments of the research division, as formulated during my service from the summer of 1998 to February 2002, there was no intelligence foundation for the prevailing concept nowadays.
In fact, MI’s considered opinion of Arafat’s intentions was in direct contradiction to the line that Gilad was pushing, and indicated that the goal of the Palestinian leadership was not a strategic conflict with Israel but was: “to get what could be gotten out of the political process, to reach a two-state solution as based on the known Palestinian position determined by the PLO in 1988: a state in the 1967 borders, including Arab Jerusalem, on the basis of UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 and a fair solution to the refugee problem on the basis of UN General Assembly decision 194.” In other words, MI believed that Palestinian intentions towards Israel and the peace process were exactly what the Palestinians maintained they were. Even as late as the Taba talks, MI assessed that Arafat was hopeful of negotiating a peace deal before Barak and Clinton left office; and after the Taba talks were suspended, Arafat still aspired to continue the negotiations from where they left off, with the new Israeli administration.
Lavie also confirmed it was MI’s view that Arafat believed limited violence was a legitimate tactical move, but he did not launch the intifada as a strategic weapon to destroy Israel through terror, as conventional wisdom insists. Arafat shared responsibility for the escalation of the intifada, because he did not throw his full weight behind an end to the conflict while it was still in its earliest stages. He did not however plan or launch the violence – As in the case of the first intifada, this one also broke out at the grassroots level, as a result of anger toward Israel, toward Arafat and toward the Palestinian Authority - but simply rode on its back once it quickly generated a momentum of its own.
Col. Lavie maintained that MI was not immediately aware that Gilad was briefing Ministers with his own opinions rather than hard intelligence:
Only over time did we learn to understand that there were gaps between what the reports prepared and documented by division and what was presented to the decision makers, and that was because in most case, things were said in closed session of the General Staff and the political echelon….
… Sometimes, and apparently this is what happened in the Palestinian case, the assessments that were presented were departures from the official assessments and included statements that were the fruit of personal impressions alone, not based on precise intelligence information….
…That could turn into a real failure in light of the fact that most of the ministers are not allowed to read MI written reports while those who do get the material are limited in time and in their ability to delve deeply into it, and therefore they are more influenced by the appearance of the intelligence officer. If we add to that the forceful manner of the officer, then we have a case of real danger that there will be distortion of intelligence work, and maybe even tendentiousness. That risk worsens when it's a consistent process.
…The result of the process under conditions I described could be disastrous. A mistaken concept can take hold, which will mislead the leadership when the time comes to formulate policy. Moreover, there is also the risk that the mistaken concept will fit the leadership's political and diplomatic considerations and therefore [it will] adopt the concept unhesitatingly, to the satisfaction of the intelligence officer. From there on, it's a very short road to the research becoming a tool for the leadership to explain its policy or support it.
Three days after Lavie spoke out in support of Malka’s accusations against Gilad, Danny Rubinstein interviewed Mati Steinberg, an expert on Palestinian affairs who served as adviser to the head of Shin Bet through the peace process, and relinquished that position only last year. In contrast to Gilad’s alarmist assessments of Palestinian intentions towards Israel, Steinberg’s professional assessment of Arafat’s behavior throughout the years of negotiations was that Arafat was indeed committed to the diplomatic route to a settlement, and had displayed a commitment to the two-state solution (and a flexibility on the right of return) that had earned him considerable suspicion and criticism from the less-flexible parties in the Palestinian spectrum. Steinberg concluded, in support of Malka and Lavie, that Amos Gilad’s “no-one to talk to” mantra had no factual basis; he also opined that Amos Gilad, as an intelligence professional, should have based his views upon professional criteria, rather than personal political inclination.
With such senior members of the military intelligence establishment maintaining that their professional assessments had been misused for political ends, several opposition MKs called for an investigation into the “erroneous” intelligence evaluations that Amos Gilad had passed off as MI assessments in his briefings to the Cabinet. Labour leader Shimon Peres characterized the issue as extremely severe, and noted that Gilad’s “stupid, exaggerated theories” had had huge repercussions, contributing to a large extent to the defeat of the Labour government in 2001 and the victory of the Likud, and providing a rationale for PM Sharon’s determination to employ unilateral solutions to the Palestinian conflict, and a justification for his refusal to enter into negotiations. Malka, Lavie and Steinberg all support the call for a thorough investigation into how personal opinion managed to get passed off as military intelligence at the highest levels of government, and with such far-reaching consequences.
So why does any of this matter? Nearly four years after the collapse of the peace process and the beginning of the intifada, why do a post mortem to deconstruct the myths and assess why it really went wrong?
Well, firstly because sooner or later Israelis and Palestinians will have to return to peace negotiations, and they are going to relive the failures of the Oslo process if they don’t get beyond demonizing Arafat and assess honestly what the real causes of the failures were. As Danny Rabinowitz put it:
The possibility that the intifada came as a reaction to fundamental flaws in the Oslo process, and not as Palestinian madness that truncated an era of peace and roses before its time, is interesting not only as an intellectual exercise. It is also important for the purpose of more successful planning of a peace process in the medium and long run.
Most independent analysts who look back at Oslo would probably agree that its major failing was that it put off to an unspecified future date all the issues that really mattered (especially to the Palestinians) – sovereignty, borders, refugees and Jerusalem. For most of the Oslo years (i.e. after the fall of the Peres government), Israel was led by PMs who had not supported the signing of the Oslo Accords: MKs Netanyahu and Sharon voted against Oslo; Barak as Chief of Staff abstained. Seeing the rapid expansion of settlement activity that these three leaders carried out in the Occupied Territories, and in the absence of written guarantees in the Oslo Accord that they were really heading for independence, Palestinians quickly began to wonder whether Israel was using the peace process to end the occupation, or to entrench it. That was the origin of the disillusionment that eventually erupted in the form of the intifada. If a successful peace process is to be resurrected, this time it will need to specify from the beginning that its end goal is a genuine two state solution and an end to occupation, and there will have to be a clear timetable of when these things are going to take place. That kind of peace process is not going to come about without a recognition that it was the lack of these elements in Oslo that were a disaster to the peace process, rather than the evil machinations of the demonized Arafat.
Secondly, Israel needs to know if its intelligence was misused, because the integrity of its entire military intelligence process is in question. MI is meant to be a professional and reliable source of hard intelligence, that decision-makers can rely upon in making life-and-death decisions. It is not meant to be cherry-picked or manipulated as a PR tool for the more hawkish elements of Israeli government. If intelligence information is uncovered that conflicts with existing conceptions, it is the conceptions need to be reconsidered, not the intelligence that needs to be massaged. Otherwise, there will be an inevitable and growing disconnect between the prevailing dogma and reality, and that is not in Israel’s own national interest (nor in the interest of the region as a whole, as Israel is the dominant power). Col. Lavie illustrated how dangerous this situation can be for Israel by citing the example of the run-up to the 1973 War. At that time, there was also a prevailing konseptzia, i.e. that Egyptian President Anwar Sadat would never dare to attack Israel. This idea was so dominant that hard intelligence about his preparations for war were disregarded by the Israeli government du jour, right up until Yom Kippur 1973, when Sadat launched the invasion that eventually cost 3,000 Israeli lives.
Malka, Lavie and Steinberg all pointed out too that the gap between dogma and reality is particularly dangerous in an asymmetric relationship such as that between Israel and the Palestinians, because the party that holds the power to a large extent creates the reality. Once Israel was convinced by Gilad’s dire assessments that it was facing in the intifada not a grassroots protest, but a war for survival, it launched a massive military response, bringing war about anyway, whether the Palestinians were really seeking one or not. Furthermore, because the prevailing concept was that Arafat was intent upon the destruction of Israel, the Israelis directed their assault against his (moderate) PA, leaving a vacuum in the center of Palestinian society that has been filled largely by Hamas, i.e. by a movement that really does seek the destruction of Israel! Steinberg remarks that by buying the mistaken claim that the Palestinians were not seeking peace but launching an existential war against Israel, the Israelis inevitably turned the claim into “a self-fulfilling prophecy”. Even when the Palestinians offered Israel a comprehensive peace settlement on the basis of the Arab League statement of March 2002 (i.e. full normalization of relations between Israel and the Arab world, in exchange for a withdrawal from the Occupied Territories), Israel did not offer any serious consideration to what should have been a landmark offer, because it did not fit the dominant preconception that there was “no-one to talk to and nothing to talk about”. Steinberg concludes:
Because it [didn’t] fit the mistaken conception, it was subjected to the `delete button'.... A change which one refuses to recognize as a change is not a change - that is because you are the side which decides…Once you uphold a mistaken view you become captive to it, and a vicious circle perpetuates reality. The only way to escape from it is to review the mistaken conception critically, and to replace it with a conceptual framework which, I believe, is better suited to the facts, and whose implications are more tenable.
The third, and most urgent, reason why Israel needs to come to terms with the speciousness of the “no-one to talk to" myth is that PM Sharon is right now using that same discredited axiom to justify his annexation of half of the West Bank, under the cover of “unilateral disengagement”. As Rabinowitz puts it: The possibility that the intifada came as a reaction to fundamental flaws in the Oslo process, and not as Palestinian madness that truncated an era of peace and roses before its time, is…important in the immediate run in order to understand the absence of any connection between the Sharon-style unilateral disengagement and peace.
Ariel Sharon has always believed in a bantustan system rather than a two-state solution; he has been saying for 20 years that the right model for the Palestinians is to confine them to South African-style “tribal homelands” , on the 40% or so of the West Bank where they are most concentrated. Sharon is willing to give up the Gaza Strip (which is demographically a lost cause for Israel), if in return he can annex the most productive 55% of the West Bank, leaving the Palestinians divided, impoverished and enclosed behind walls and fences in the remaining 45%. This, not the security of Israel, is the purpose of the Wall, and the land theft, and the home demolitions that have become the hallmark of his premiership. The annexation of so much occupied land is of course the end of the possibility of the two state solution and Palestinian independence, and there is no Palestinian leader (or international forum) that will ever agree to it. That is why Sharon has to avoid negotiations - bilateral or international - at all cost, and that is where “we have no-one to talk to” has come in very useful for him. As Yoel Marcus summed it up:
In practice, the plan to withdraw unilaterally from Gaza is an attempt to retain our hold on most of the West Bank. Sharon rejects Arafat as a partner for dialogue not because army intelligence whispered in his ear that the guy is a bastard. It's because he knows the conditions for an agreement with Arafat (or any other Palestinian leader) are the same as those insisted on by Sadat - withdrawal to the `67 borders and saying goodbye to the settlements. And that is not on Sharon's agenda, even in his worst nightmares.
Hence from Arafat's perspective, Sharon is not a peace partner either. Sharon is focused on Gaza, and he is not preparing the Israelis for the great exodus that will enable the two peoples to live side by side in peace.
-- Yoel Marcus, Don't knock the power of words
And that is why it is most important to establish just how and why Israel’s military intelligence was manipulated to provide a justification for making war over negotiating peace. An inquiry will not be able to do anything for the 4,000 people killed in the three-and-a-half years since negotiations were abandoned because “there is no-one to talk to”. But it’s not too late to stop the same lie that underpinned their deaths from being used to destroy the hope of a negotiated two-state solution and to entrench the Occupation for yet another generation, with all the death and misery that that is going to entail for Palestinians and Israelis alike.
1. This post is by necessity a brief introduction to a complex issue. The interviews cited are well worth studying in full, and are linked here:
-- Popular Misconceptions by Akiva Eldar (Interview with Amos Malka) Is Yasser Arafat really aiming for the destruction of Israel, rather than a solution to the conflict? This perception has been turned into conventional wisdom in Israel - but many in the intelligence community just don't believe it...
-- Following the stretch from concept to dogma to axiom by Yoav Stern As head of the Palestinian section in the research division of Military Intelligence, Col. (res.) Ephraim Lavie accompanied the peace process - and its collapse. He now joins the demands to investigate the `no partner' for talks concept.
-- The stronger side creates reality by Danny Rubinstein. Interview with Mati Steinberg: with useful insight into Palestinian priorities for a final settlement, and the radicalising effect that Israel's resort to force alone has had on Palestinian political movements. (This article contains two important typos. 1. The answer to the question, "Were these assessments accepted in the period that preceded...?" should read "Personally, I thought that the moment PM Ehud Barak decided not to carry out the third phase withdrawal... and 2. The second half to the last answer should read, "Because it didn't fit the mistaken conception...". i.e. there is a negative missing from each sentence).
-- A Jewish state? "Definitely" by David Landau and Akiva Eldar. Arafat is ready to sign an agreement that would give Palestinians 97 per cent of the West Bank and Gaza - with the rest in a land swap, and the right of return of not all, but at least some refugees. In a free-ranging interview with Haaretz, conducted in the carefully preserved ruins of the Muqata, the PA Chairman also spoke of the historical family bonds between the two peoples...
-- Confronting Myths and Deadly Power by Amira Hass
-- Foreign Affairs panel MK: Gilad didn't shun Arafat as partner
-- More than a million bullets by Reuven Pedatzur
-- Sharon and Hamas Dream Together by Jackson Diehl; Washington Post, 10 Dec 2001
-- Irreversible Mental Damage by Uri Avnery
-- Imperial Misconceptions by Roni Ben Efrat; Challenge magazine, 13 Jul 2004
-- The Second Intifada - An Israeli Strategy by Khalid Amayreh; Al-Jazeera, 4 Jul 2004
-- Helping Israel on a False and Dangerous Course by Ira Chernus
-- Who needs concepts? by Doron Rosenblum (via Jewschool)
-- The collaborator of Amos Gilad from within the Zionist Left, by Yehudith Harel. A condemnation of how quickly Israel's "peace camp" adopted the "no-one to talk to" mantra after Camp David.
2. The "inside" version of Camp David II is best told in Charles Enderlin's Shattered Dreams: The Failure of the Peace Process in the Middle East, 1995-2002, which is based on the notes and recollections of the negotiators who participated there. Shattered Dreams was also made into a 3-hour documentary (La Reve Brisee) for French TV. A cut-down 2-hour English-language version was made into a Frontline documentary for a US audience. Unfortunately, the Frontline version includes only interviews that support the official "generous offer" version of Camp David: the 60 minutes that were cut from La Reve Brisee to make Frontline's 2-hr documentary included those interviews that offered the counter-argument.
3. Lia at Haramlik has already summarised the key points of the "no-one to talk to" Israeli Military Intelligence scandal, in a 17 June 2004 post: Camp David 2000 e la demonizzazione di Arafat. (In Italian)