The lessons of Camp David II

Arafat’s romanticism was his people’s disaster.

Barak, Clinton, Arafat at Camp David 311 AP (photo credit: AP)
Barak, Clinton, Arafat at Camp David 311 AP
(photo credit: AP)
In a scene from the American movie, The Insider, the Christopher Plummer character explains to his colleague the circumstances behind a decision that the latter finds disappointing in the following way:
“I’m talking about when you’re nearer the end of your life than the beginning. Now, what do you think you think about then? The future? In the future I’m going to do this? Become that? What future? No. What you think is how will you be regarded in the end, after you’re gone.”
Arafat ordered Hamas attacks against Israel in 2000
This is not far, I think, from what was preoccupying Yasser Arafat in the last stage of his life, during and after Camp David II, and it is this anxiety about how one will be “regarded in the end” that guided his decision-making at that critical period.
As the mourners gathered for his burial in Ramallah in 2004, I am sure Arafat’s soul was looking down with satisfaction. He gave his people what they had been desperately desiring – a hero, a new Saladin and, more importantly, he avoided making a fatal mistake, and in the nick of time.
Oh boy, he was very close to losing everything in Camp David II, by signing a final agreement – a compromise that he would have had to sell to his people. But how ironic fate is sometimes; who would have known that Camp David itself would be the road to the “glorious” farewell he had always desired.
With the rumors that he had been poisoned by the Mossad, the legend was complete. He had secured his place in the history of his people as the martyr-leader who was assassinated because he refused to surrender Al-Kuds to the Israelis.
One man’s loss is another man’s gain. Many were put at a disadvantage because of the man’s romanticized vision. Arafat ruined president Bill Clinton’s hopes for reaching an agreement that would resonate with Carter’s historic one, and which could have given the second term of his presidency a magnificent final touch. Ehud Barak eventually had to call for a special election that would pave the way for his rival, Ariel Sharon, and was to subsequently resign as Labor leader.
But il-Khityar, “the old man,” was not the only winner. Hamas was about to enter a golden age with a golden opportunity; the time was ripe to mobilize the masses and regain the power and logistic freedom it had started to lose in the aftermath of the Oslo Accords.
Now, everything was presented to it on a silver platter by its political rival: The peace process has failed, they denied us all our rights, jihad is the only way, we told you so, we told you so.
THE PATH was disastrous to the Palestinian cause. But any objective evaluation of the situation was impossible while celebrating the martyrdom of il-Khityar. Nobody could blame him for any of the tragic consequences of his decisions, basically the suffering added on for his people, and no one could realize the stark fact that the man had just toppled the very peace process he himself, just a few years earlier, had taken pains to sell as the “strategic choice” for the Palestinians and the Arabs. Nobody could grasp that things would never be the same.
Though many details regarding Camp David II and its aftermath are still controversial, one thing remains certain: Arafat’s romanticism was his people’s disaster.
We could probably agree that we don’t need a new Arafat; one was more than enough. But it is crucial to realize that we do not need to repeat the mistakes of the past. We certainly don’t need a third intifada – one that would unleash new Hamases (again one is enough) or refresh the current one.
The Israelis learned their lesson; they would never trust the PA for their security, and the Guinness record in suicide bombings achieved in the second intifada (a total that even Sheik Hassan Nasrallah thought was “unbelievable”) won’t be broken. We also have to learn our lessons.
It is a pity, but also inherent in Middle East politics, that a leader like Mahmoud Abbas has to suffer and lose popularity because he failed to keep up with the Arafat model.
I am confident Abbas will not seek a hero’s farewell; things are much more complicated now. For both sides, issues like the extension of the building moratorium are indeed marginal if the ultimate goal is to avoid the path taken in 2000. And for Abbas: Please keep negotiations going. Have more courage. Your realism will be your people’s bliss.
The writer is a PhD researcher in Pittsburgh.