Walt, Mearsheimer and the Peace Process

John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt's "The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy" (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) is a 484-page extension of the arguments they presented last year in their tendentious Harvard "Working Paper" and London Review of Books essay, which received extensive criticism for failure to meet basic standards of academic integrity.

This article is not intended as a book review, but rather an examination of a central event in the Middle East "peace process" that Walt & Mearsheimer distorted in their earlier work -- and now expand in their book. 

As the State Department seeks to "accelerate" the peace process by organizing an international meeting for the Fall -- on grounds the Palestinians need a "political horizon" -- it is important to understand what actually happened when they received multiple "political horizons" in 2000, and how that relates to what is happening now.   What follows is thus of more than academic interest.

Walt & Mearsheimer's Assertion Regarding Camp David

In their Harvard Working Paper, Walt & Mearsheimer asserted that:

No Israeli government has been willing to offer the Palestinians a viable state of their own.  Even Prime Minister Ehud Barak's purportedly generous offer at Camp David in July 2000 would only have given the Palestinians a disarmed and dismembered set of "Bantustans" under de facto Israeli control.40  [Emphasis added].
The assertion was demonstrably false, as a review of the references in Footnote 40 showed that Walt & Mearsheimer had:  (a) ignored primary sources, including eyewitness accounts of Camp David by Bill Clinton, Dennis Ross, Ehud Barak and Shlomo Ben-Ami, and instead (b) relied on selective secondary sources, some with titles obviously inconsistent with objective analysis (such as a book subtitled "Resisting Israel's Apartheid").

In his monumental book "The Missing Peace," Dennis Ross confirmed that at Camp David the Palestinians were offered "91% of the West Bank in contiguous territory," plus an additional 1% from Israeli territory, for a total of 92 percent.  Ross also published a map of the final Israeli offer at Camp David, which made it obvious that Walt & Mearsheimer's "Bantusatans" argument (echoing a post-Camp David charge by Arafat) was wrong.  Barak called Arafat's charge "one of the most embarrassing lies to have emerged from Camp David:"
"To put it simply, any proposal that offers 92 percent of the West Bank cannot, almost by definition, break up the territory into noncontiguous cantons."
Walt & Mearsheimer have toned down their inflammatory rhetoric, but they still argue that Camp David "would not have given the Palestinians a continuous piece of sovereign territory in the West Bank."  They write that "the Palestinian state proposed at Camp David would have been composed of either two or three distinct cantons in the West Bank," because Israel would have maintained control of a "wedge of territory running from Jerusalem to the Jordan River Valley."

The "wedge of territory" was a road that Israel would have maintained for a number of years to reach a security area in the Jordan River Valley, before turning over both the road and the areas to the Palestinians.  Even with the road, the Palestinian areas on the West Bank would have been connected by a tunnel or bridge (just as Gaza and the West Bank would have been connected by a travel corridor). 

To believe that 92% of the West Bank, with a bridge over a temporary road necessary for Israeli security, represented a "dismembered set of Bantustans" would require a belief that people in Brooklyn and Manhattan (or Oakland and San Francisco) also live in dismembered Bantustans, unable to function together as part of the same state.

In order to retain this argument in their book, Walt & Mearsheimer have to (a) dismiss Ross's map of the Israeli proposal as "implausible," (b) ignore the confirming statements by Clinton, Barak and Ben-Ami, and (c) rely once again on secondary sources written by people who did not participate in these events.

In their supporting footnote this time (page 104, footnote 122), Walt & Mearsheimer list several books and articles they describe as the "most objective" accounts of what happened at Camp David.  Amazingly, the list omits Dennis Ross's exhaustive book.  Instead, the list includes a 2001 article by a SUNY professor who argues that "Israel rather than the Palestinians bears the greater share of the responsibility . . . for the entire course of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since 1948." 

The list also includes Deborah Sontag's infamous July 26, 2001 New York Times article, which featured an interview with Arafat but not Barak (who declined to give her one), arguing that Arafat was not "solely" responsible.  Every single book and article in Walt & Mearsheimer's list pre-dates Dennis Ross's 2004 definitive volume, with its day-by-day account of the process based on personal knowledge. 

Walt & Mearsheimer did not alter Ross's maps to make them blatantly false and misleading, as Jimmy Carter did, but they still seek to make the same erroneous point:  that the Palestinians were not offered a viable state by Israel at Camp David in July 2000.  The truth is that the Palestinians were offered a contiguous state on substantially all of the West Bank, and they turned it down.

Walt & Mearsheimer's Assertion Regarding the Clinton Parameters

Walt & Mearsheimer's book contains a new allegation, not included in their prior paper, regarding the December 23, 2000 Clinton Parameters, which would have provided (a) a Palestinian state on all of Gaza and 97% of the West Bank (phrased as an Israeli retention of 4-6% of the West Bank and a 1-3% land swap of Israeli land, with 97% thus the midpoint), (b) a capital in East Jerusalem, (c) a right of return to the new Palestinian state, and (d) a massive international compensation fund.

Walt & Mearsheimer write that:
The official Palestinian response thanked Clinton for his continued efforts, declared that considerable progress had been made, asked for clarification on some points, and expressed reservations about others. . . . Thus both the Palestinians and the Israelis accepted the Clinton Parameters and saw them as the basis for continued negotiation, but neither side accepted them in toto. . . .  We will never know if peace was within sight by early 2001, but the charge that Arafat and the Palestinians rejected a last chance for peace and chose violence over reconciliation is false.
This account is egregiously erroneous.  One need only look at the "Official Palestinian Response to the Clinton Parameters" dated January 1, 2001, which is still available on the Palestinian Authority website.  But first some background:

Clinton presented the Parameters to the Israelis and Palestinians in a joint meeting in the White House on December 23, 2000, with a proviso that they be accepted or rejected in principle by December 27, 2000, so that (if accepted) they could be turned into a definitive agreement within the remaining month of the Clinton presidency.  Dennis Ross had prepared the Parameters after working with both sides in the wake of the Camp David failure, as a final bridging proposal.  Clinton told the parties that if the Parameters were not accepted by both sides, "they are not just off the table, they also go with me when I leave office." 

Israel convened its cabinet on December 27 and officially accepted the Parameters in principle.  Israel also had reservations, but those reservations were (in both Ross and Clinton's words) "within the parameters, not outside them" -- that is, they were appropriate issues to be negotiated within the context of the Parameters.

The Palestinians did not respond by the December 27 deadline and instead sent a delegation two days after it expired to meet with Ross, to signal that the response might be negative.  At the meeting, Ross asked if they understood the consequences of a negative response.  They said they did.  Ross then asked to be alone with the head of the delegation ("Abu Ala," or Ahmed Qurei) and warned him they would never see a better offer:
"[Y]ou will have Sharon as Prime Minister.  He will be elected for sure if there is no deal, and your 97 percent will become 40 to 45 percent; your capital in East Jerusalem will be gone; the IDF out of the Jordan Valley will be gone; unlimited right of return for refugees to your state will be gone.  Abu Ala, you know I am telling you the truth."
Walt & Mearsheimer cite the "Official Palestinian Response to the Clinton Parameters" that arrived several days later, but they do not quote from it nor do they describe the actual "reservations" in it.  The Palestinian memorandum set forth "why the latest United States proposals, taken together and as presented without clarification, fail to satisfy the conditions required for a permanent peace."  [Emphasis added here and in the following quotations].

With respect to Israeli settlements (to be completely contained under the Parameters within the 4 to 6 percent annexation of West Bank land), the memorandum stated that "the Palestinian side rejects the use of ‘settlement blocs' as a guiding principle as recommended by the United States proposal." 
Ultimately, it is impossible to agree to a proposal that punishes Palestinians while rewarding Israel's illegal settlement policies.  A proposal involving annexation of 4 to 6 percent . . . of the land would inevitably damage vital Palestinian interests. 
With respect to Palestinian refugees (to be given an unlimited right of return to the new Palestinian state, plus massive international assistance), the memorandum stated Israel must recognize a right of return not only to Israel but to the refugees' original homes, and that recognition of this right "is a pre-requisite for the closure of the conflict:" 
It is important to recall that Resolution 194 . . . calls for the return of Palestinian refugees to "their homes," wherever located - not to their "homeland" or to "historic Palestine."

The essence of the right of return is choice:  Palestinians should be given the option to choose where they wish to settle, including return to the homes from which they were driven.  There is no historical precedent for a people abandoning their fundamental right to return to their homes whether they were forced to leave or fled in fear.  We will not be the first people to do so. 
The memorandum ran on for pages, with objections on every page, and demanded resolution of numerous other issues not even addressed in the Parameters:
The United States proposal remains silent on a number of issues that are essential for the establishment of a lasting and comprehensive peace. . . .  Specifically, the proposal does not address water, compensation for damages resulting from over thirty years of occupation, the environment, future economic relations, and other state-to-state issues.
The memorandum closed by stating the Palestinians wanted to emphasize that "we remain committed to a peaceful resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict" -- it was just that "[w]e cannot, however, accept a proposal that secures neither the establishment of a viable Palestinian state nor the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes."

This is what Walt & Mearsheimer characterize in their book as an "acceptance" of the Clinton Parameters with a request for "clarification on some points, and express[ing] reservations about others."  It leads to Walt & Mearsheimer's "we'll never know what would have happened" conclusion.   

The Palestinian memorandum was in fact one big NoNo to settlement blocs and a 4-6 percent retention of West Bank land for them (with a 1-3 percent land swap).  No to any agreement not recognizing a right of return to IsraelNo to any agreement that did not "compensate" the Palestinians for "30 years of occupation."  No to any resolution that did not address "the environment," "future economic relations," unspecified "other state-to-state issues," etc., etc. 

According to Walt & Mearsheimer, the Palestinian memorandum shows "the charge that Arafat and the Palestinians rejected a last chance for peace . . .  is false."  In fact, it shows the precisely the opposite, which was exactly how Dennis Ross interpreted it:
[Arafat's] reservations were deal-killers, involving his actual rejection of the Western Wall part of the formula on the Haram, his rejection of the most basic elements of the Israeli security needs, and his dismissal of our refugee formula.  All were deal killers. 
The grossly inaccurate portrayal of the Palestinian response to the Clinton Parameters in Walt & Mearsheimer's book obscures what the Palestinians in fact did:  refuse a last offer of a state on contiguous land, with a capital in East Jerusalem, for the second time in six months.

The New Peace Process

Walt & Mearsheimer's book is part of an attempt to write a new "narrative" about what happened in 2000 -- one in which the Palestinians were never offered a state on contiguous land, were always ready to negotiate in good faith and were stymied by an intransigent Israel.  The truth is that in 2000 the Palestinians not only received a "political horizon" but formal offers of a state, not once but twice, and both times they rejected them in favor of other objectives. 

The Barak concessions in 2000 were an increasingly desperate attempt to consummate the Oslo process as the Clinton administration ended.  Israel made an initial offer at Camp David, improved it two weeks later, agreed to even more concessions in the Clinton Parameters, and then began to make even further concessions at a last-gasp meeting at Taba on January 21-28, 2001 (after Clinton left office), until Barak finally ended the charade. 

One week later, on February 5, 2001, the Israeli electorate overwhelmingly elected Ariel Sharon to replace Barak. 

The ultimate result of six months of intensive meetings and multiple Israeli concessions and offers was a new "intifada" involving waves of barbaric mass-homicide bombings.  The Clinton Parameters were ultimately superseded by the Bush Parameters in the April 14, 2004 letter to Israel, which promised the U.S. would (a) support no other plan than the Road Map, (b) back "defensible borders" for Israel (rather than a withdrawal to the 1967 lines), and (c) act to insure Gaza would not pose a threat, and which recognized that refugees would not return to Israel.

Last month, Rudy Giuliani said the Barak concessions had been made "unwisely."  He recognized that a Palestinian state per se is not necessarily in the interests of the United States, unless the Palestinians first renounce terrorism, accept the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state, and demonstrate for "some safe period" that the commitments are real.  Absent compliance with those conditions, he said he opposes a process to create a Palestinian state, since rather than advance the war against terror it might provide a new base for terrorism. 

Seven years after the Palestinians twice turned down a state, they are not even close to meeting the conditions articulated by Giuliani (much less the Bush Parameters).  They have not dismantled a single terrorist organization, are still pushing their "right of return," still demanding that Israel move back to the indefensible borders of 1967, and still insisting on sovereignty over the most holy Jewish site in the world (among other deal killers).  And not only Israel but the whole world saw what happened after the total withdrawals from Lebanon and Gaza.

Walt & Mearsheimer figure prominently in a new anti-Israel lobby that is entitled to its own opinions but under no circumstances to its own facts.  Fortunately, primary documents that refute their account are easily available.  We can only guess at Walt & Mearsheimer's motivations, but their goal seems to extend far beyond academia:  with their egregiously erroneous portrayal of the events of 2000, they seem to be seeking not only to re-write history, but to add to the pressure on Israel to make the same unwise concessions again. 

Rick Richman edits "Jewish Current Issues.
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