Israel’s proposals advanced by the U.S. during the failed Camp David talks-and similar proposals since then-were largely based on a 1995 agreement brokered by two principal Oslo Accords architects, current Israeli Justice Minister Yossi Beilin and senior Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) leader Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazin). The Beilin-Abu Mazin document has long been regarded by Israeli and American negotiators as a sound basis for a final settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. In fact, a former U.S. official told Newsweek that then President Bill Clinton considered the Beilin-Abu Mazin draft a “core idea” at Camp David.
The Stockholm Channel:
The PLO and Israel recognized that they needed to go beyond Oslo which, as an interim accord, intentionally left the thorniest issues between the two sides largely unresolved. Beilin took it upon himself to negotiate a final status agreement with the PLO prior to the organization’s relocation to Gaza. Under the aegis of a multilateral meeting, Beilin flew to Tunis in 1993 and huddled with PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat. In the meeting, Arafat resolved to reprise his early clandestine feat at Oslo. Giving his blessings to Beilin’s intent to launch an effort aimed at reaching a final settlement to the conflict, Arafat set in motion a very energetic operation, financed mainly by Sweden, which later acquired the name the Stockholm Channel. Over the next eighteen months, Beilin headed the small Israeli team of negotiators, meeting approximately 20 times with a similarly small Palestinian contingent chaired by Abu Mazin, at various European and Middle Eastern locations. How much of Beilin’s initial plan was shared with then Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin remains open to debate. What is certain is that both men monitored the progress of the negotiations; however, Rabin’s assassination on 4 November 1995 never availed him of the opportunity to lend his seal of approval to the final agreement executed in a Tel Aviv apartment on October 31, just a few days before the assassination.
As details of Barak’s various proposals have been revealed, it has become evident how the Beilin-Abu Mazin document influenced them. From proposed Israeli withdrawals in the West Bank and Gaza, to matters dealing with Jerusalem and the future of Palestinian refugees, one can see the marks left on the Israeli proposals by the earlier document. According to the Beilin-Abu Mazin understanding, Israel offered to relinquish up to 94 percent of the West Bank; however, the document is vague on the calculations used, nor does it clearly state which parts of the Palestinian territories are to be permanently annexed to Israel. Abu Mazin’s team concurred that the new state of Palestine, to be established on evacuated lands presently occupied by Israel, would have to be “demilitarized.” Also, Palestinian negotiators acquiesced to the demand that Israeli forces, including three reinforced battalions, must be stationed along the West Bank of the Jordan River “within agreed military compounds,” and that three Israeli early warning stations and three air defense units would be maintained for 12 years (until May 2007).
Although the 12-year period sounds finite enough, there is nothing definite about the language in which this particular provision is couched: “Three Early Warning Stations and three Air Defense Units . . . will be maintained until May 5, 2007 or until peace agreements and bilateral security arrangements between Israel and the relevant Arab parties are attained, whichever comes last.” Naturally, Syria may be defined as a relevant party, but what about Iraq or Libya? What if neither country ever felt compelled to conclude the said “peace agreements and bilateral security arrangements with Israel”? Are the Palestinian people then expected to mortgage their independence and sovereignty? Additionally, should those Arab countries whose policies are not fully in accordance with Israeli wishes feel responsible for holding back Palestinian national aspirations?
Further complicating matters is the stipulation that “co-sponsors and other parties agreed upon shall be invited to guarantee Israel’s military withdrawal.” Taking into account Israel’s natural predilection toward favoring its allies (i.e., the U.S.) over other parties viewed as less friendly (i.e., the UN, the European Union), certainly the Palestinians will have to wait a long time before seeing Israel’s compliance. Witness the farce the Oslo Accords turned into, in part because of the lack of effective enforcement mechanisms.
Settlements and Refugees:
Regarding settlements, the agreement states that “individual Israelis who have their permanent domicile within the Palestinian state shall be offered Palestinian citizenship or choose to remain as alien residents, all without prejudice to their Israeli citizenship.” Is this not a continuation of the colonization of Palestinian territories-especially since no reciprocal measures are granted to Palestinians who wish to reside in Israel?
This brings us to the matter of the Palestinian refugees. On this issue, the Beilin-Abu Mazin document states: “The Palestinian side recognizes that the prerequisites of the new era of peace and coexistence as well as the realities created on the ground since 1948 have rendered the implementation of [the right of return] impracticable.” Moreover, whereas the Israeli side declares that it “acknowledges the moral and material suffering caused to the Palestinian people as a result of the War 1947-1949,” Israel’s acknowledgement falls deliberately far short of any claim of direct responsibility for Palestinian suffering.
Israel’s future role in the refugee issue is mainly confined to finding ways to help Palestinian refugees “financially and economically” in order to enable their “resettlement and rehabilitation” in other countries, including in the newly created Palestinian state. The parties agreed to establish an International Committee for Palestinian Refugees (ICPR) to address the final settlement of the refugee issue. As for allowing refugees back into Israel, the only commitment made by Israel consists of a pledge to facilitate family reunification in “special defined cases, to be agreed upon with the ICPR.” In turn, the PLO promised to undertake no additional claims or demands arising from this issue upon the implementation of the agreement. Jerusalem: To enable the Palestinian side to claim that Jerusalem is also the capital of a new Palestinian state, the parties agreed to expand the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem to include a number of surrounding Palestinian cities and Israeli settlements. The parties would then enjoy “free access to and use of the Qalandia Airport.” Startlingly, the agreement adds that “a new designated Palestinian terminal shall be constructed to commence operation concurrent with the signing of the Treaty of Peace.” Should one understand here that this terminal is for “Palestinians only,” as compared to, say, “Jews only”?
Finally, on the issue of the Haram al-Sharif, the document employs creatively vague language reminiscent of Barak’s statements distinguishing between “authority” and “sovereignty.” Lacking both honesty and clarity, Barak’s statements came across as highly evasive. The Beilin-Abu Mazin document declares: “The State of Palestine shall be granted extra-territorial sovereignty over the Haram a-Sharif under the administration of the Al-Quds Awqaf.” The compound would be treated like an embassy-wherein the overall sovereignty lies with Israel-while the Palestinians can claim practical exclusive control based on everyday reality.
To the chagrin of Palestinians, Arabs, and Muslims everywhere, the Barak government floated the concept of split sovereignty, with the Palestinians controlling the surface of the compound and Israel retaining the right to what lies beneath it. An Israeli diplomat aptly told Newsweek: “We are working now to see if there are possible mechanisms that would allow us to say we have sovereignty, while the Palestinians can say they got what they wanted.” Yet as the Oslo Accords have demonstrated so far, it takes a great deal more than linguistic creativity to bridge fundamental political divides. The deep schism between the Palestinians and Israelis lies primarily in principles, not linguistics.
Mr. Khalil Barhoum is Coordinator of the program of Middle Eastern and African Literatures, Cultures, and Languages at Stanford University.