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Former CIA director George Tenet places most of the blame for the breakdown of the security plan bearing his name and other efforts to stop the violence after the outbreak of the second intifada on Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in his new book published Monday.
"Almost always, that last impenetrable barrier to peace had the same name: Arafat," he writes in his 576-page memoir, of which an entire chapter is devoted to the late PA chairman.
In At the Center of the Storm: My Years at the CIA,Tenet also confirms reports from the Wye River negotiations in 1998 that he threatened to resign if then President Bill Clinton released convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard as part of the agreement.
Tenet, who served as CIA director from 1997-2004, was brought into an unusually visible negotiating role between Israelis and Palestinians at Clinton's behest. His book recounts this experience in Middle East peace-making, as well as his views on the terrorist threat before and after September 11, intelligence questions surrounding the Iraq War and many other of the other issues he encountered as the second-longest serving head of America's spy agency.
Tenet writes that he was uncomfortable with his "inappropriate" assignment. "I wasn't enamored of suddenly finding myself in the middle of all of this," he says. Mediation "was a policy maker's job, and at CIA, we don't make policy, we implement it."
Though he was initially relieved of that task under President George W. Bush, Tenet was recalled to service in June of 2001 following the bombing of the Dolphinarium disco. There he labored to hammer out a plan for a cease-fire between the two sides, which was never implemented amid continuing bloodshed. Still, he notes, the Israelis agreed while the Palestinians delayed.
It was not the first time Tenet faced such a scenario. "Arafat always wanted one more thing, and one more thing was never enough because what he really wanted was for the peace process to be ever-active and eternally unresolved," according to Tenet.
Clinton's memoir, My Life, assigned Arafat much of the blame for the failed Camp David peace process in 2000.
Tenet's work has itself aroused a tempest over his claims that the Bush administration pushed recklessly for war with Iraq and that his warnings of a massive terror attack before September 11 went unheeded. Some critics have attacked him for playing down his own mistakes in some of America's gravest intelligence failures: the 9-11 attacks and the lack of WMDs in Iraq.
When it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Tenet also doesn't suggest much in the way of personal shortcomings or mistakes for the failures of his efforts at security coordination between the two sides, though his trips to the region after the outbreak of violence in September 2000 were often surrounded by further killings.
Instead, he criticizes the lack of political movement. "We had edged up to a workable cease-fire, and once more, it had withered and died before it could ever take root," he writes of the "Tenet Plan" from June 2001. "In the absence of a political process, this was inevitable."
Still, he says that the White House was right not to push for greater diplomacy with the Palestinians once Bush entered office, as it was apparent little could be done with Arafat in power.
"He got what he could from us [through the Oslo process], and from that point on gave little back," Tenet says. "Therefore - and it was a view I supported - there would be no more letting him in the front door." Despite his critique of Arafat, Tenet acknowledges that on a personal level, "I couldn't keep myself from liking him."
Tenet recalls the personal hospitality lavished on him by Arafat before he headed the CIA, at one point reminiscing about his visit to a local archbishop's residence in Bethlehem.
In the previous sentence, he writes that, "I love the Israelis - their passion for life, what they've done to stand up for themselves, and what they've done in establishing their state."
Tenet's book contains glimpses of other figures who have remained important players on the Israeli and Palestinian scenes. He remembers a phone call from then Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) head, current public security minister and "lifelong friend" Avi Dichter on September 11, in which he was told to "be strong" and "lead your people," though "he didn't have to say that he had seen hundreds of his own countrymen killed by terrorists, on his watch, and I didn't have to add that I now understood what it was like to be the chief of the service when the same thing happened on my soil. All that was implicit."
Tenet describes working with Ami Ayalon, then and now a contender for the head of the Labor Party and who was Shin Bet chief during the Wye process. "Ami was a real straight shooter - and we could count on him not to play games." That was the reason, some Americans speculated, that then prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu left him behind in Israel during the Wye negations.
The Wye Plantation was the scene of his decision to tell Clinton he would resign if Pollard was included in the deal, which saw Israeli withdrawals from Palestinian areas as a piece of the Oslo Accords. He told Clinton, "If a spy is let out as a consequence of these negotiations, I will never be able to lead my building."
Tenet also offers behind-the-scenes anecdotes of the negotiating process between the two sides. At one point he discusses the final stumbling block in the agreement to end the siege of the Nativity Church in Bethlehem, when wanted terrorists had holed up in the Christian holy site to avoid capture by the IDF at the height of the intifada.
"The Israelis wanted the weapons thrown in the Mediterranean, and the Palestinians wanted them thrown in the Dead Sea, closer to their territory. You can't make this stuff up," Tenet writes.