The Peace Breakdown
The White House plays a risky game at Camp David--and loses. Yet
peace hopes stay alive
The 15 days at Camp David took on an odd life of their own.
Dozens of golf carts zipped from cabin to cabin at the northern
Maryland presidential retreat, with Israeli and Palestinian
officials scrunched in them haggling with one another and
dodging chipmunks darting across their paths. There were
negotiations across tables, but just as much work got done over
pinball machines at Hickory Lodge. With talks held practically
round the clock, diplomats began to mark time by hours instead
of days. And with clouds dumping rain almost every day, the
Middle East guests--accustomed to dryer climates--complained
that they were stuck in an expensive but soggy refugee camp.
Even the summit's death seemed odd. It came at 2:30 a.m. on
Tuesday. Saeb Erakat, a top aide to Yasser Arafat, walked into
the living room of Aspen Lodge, where Bill Clinton, Secretary of
State Madeleine Albright and National Security Adviser Sandy
Berger sat, and read them a letter from the Palestinian leader.
Arafat saw no use continuing talks on an agreement to end 52
years of conflict with Israel. Sovereignty over Jerusalem and
its holy sites was the stumbling block. "The problem is they
both want the same thing," Albright said later in an interview
with TIME: control of the city's eastern half.
Erakat folded the letter and looked up dejectedly: "I'm very
unhappy that we did not reach an agreement." Clinton stared at
him vacantly. "I don't like to fail, particularly at this," he
said softly. But he and the others were too spent to even feel
sad. Clinton had been up almost 48 hours in a final diplomatic
surge; Albright and Berger had had so many emotional highs and
lows in the previous two weeks that they were numb. In nearby
Laurel Lodge, where meals were served, Palestinian and Israeli
diplomats had already begun hugging one another and apologizing.
Relations between Arafat and Barak remained frosty, but their
negotiators have grown close over the years. Which wasn't
unusual, considering that back home their people had learned to
live close to one another. They just hadn't learned how to live
Would they ever? Arafat returned to a hero's welcome in the Gaza
Strip, where thousands cheered him for not giving up Jerusalem.
Barak stepped off his plane at Tel Aviv with what he admitted
was a "sour heart" and with the worry of a crumbling government
Evaporated as well perhaps were Clinton's dreams: a final
foreign policy triumph, the chance, maybe, to preside over a
showy ceremony establishing a Palestinian state, maybe even
breaking ground for a U.S. embassy in West Jerusalem, a prospect
Clinton raised again at week's end in an effort to boost Barak's
support at home. But this time, "they couldn't get there,"
Clinton acknowledged after the talks. He placed most of the
blame on Arafat. A more flexible Barak had come to the summit
showing "courage, vision and an understanding of the historical
importance of this moment," the President said. Arafat arrived
cemented in old demands.
That should have been no surprise. The Palestinian leader had
made clear he didn't want to be at Camp David just now, still
believing he'd already compromised enough and wary of dickering
anymore over principles he held sacred. "I'm not a negotiator,
I'm a decision maker," Arafat told an aide before boarding his
jet for the U.S. While Barak showed up with a headful of new
ideas on how to resolve thorny issues like boundaries for a new
Palestinian state and the number of Palestinian refugees allowed
to return to their homes, Arafat spent the first four days
delivering monologues. When he wouldn't look at a map Barak had
drawn with new boundaries, Clinton finally blew up. "This is
ridiculous!" the President shouted. "This is not the way to
negotiate. If you insist on stonewalling, this is going to go
Stunned, Arafat began bending, but not much. He still balked at
joining Barak in considering American proposals for how control
of Jerusalem might be divided. Clinton phoned Egypt, Jordan and
Saudi Arabia--recipients of billions in U.S. aid--but their
leaders not only refused to pressure the Palestinian, they also
urged him to stand firm. Barak and Arafat began playing "luggage
diplomacy," ordering aides to put bags outside doors to threaten
walkouts. By Wednesday night, July 19, even Clinton was ready to
close down the talks, but at the last minute Barak and Arafat
decided to remain at Camp David with Albright, while Clinton
flew to Okinawa for the G-8 economic summit.
When Clinton returned to Camp David on Sunday evening, July 23,
he decided to plunge into assembly-line diplomacy, meeting with
small teams of Palestinian and Israeli negotiators to tackle
each issue. Scribbling on yellow pads, Clinton began losing even
Berger and Albright in the details, but gradually he made
progress. By 5 a.m. Monday, with CIA Director George Tenet at
his side, he had the two sides tentatively agreeing on new
Israeli security measures once land was transferred. Next he
brought in the negotiating teams for refugees, then for borders.
By Monday night, however, it was clear that Barak and Arafat
wouldn't move further until they knew what they would have to
give up on Jerusalem. Clinton presented a compromise, which
Barak approved if Arafat accepted: Israel would have sovereignty
over West Jerusalem and much of East Jerusalem, but the
Palestinians would run municipal services in East Jerusalem and
have formal sovereignty over some of its neighborhoods. The
Palestinians would also control Muslim holy sites.
Arafat angrily turned down the U.S. plan, demanding full
sovereignty over all of East Jerusalem. At 1:30 a.m. Tuesday,
Clinton sent Tenet to Arafat's cabin to see if he could soften
him up (the two bonded at previous summits). Tenet came back
half an hour later. "It's ugly down there," he told Clinton.
Arafat wouldn't budge.
No one knew whether it would get uglier. Arafat has threatened
to declare unilaterally a Palestinian state if no accord is
reached by Sept. 13, but so far Israeli and Palestinian streets
have been calm. Though the summit collapsed, it did force the
two sides to negotiate on once taboo subjects, such as who owns
the holy city. Says Palestinian spokeswoman Hanan
Mikhail-Ashrawi: "Files are now open that were hitherto closed."
But it will take more courage still for peace. --With reporting
by Lisa Beyer and Matt Rees/Jerusalem and Jay Branegan/Washington
HOW IT ALL COLLAPSED
Here's the way Clinton tried every trick in the book--including
one his aides call "the full Lyndon"--but still came up
Smiles to Start
Arafat and Barak were playful the day they arrived at Camp David
on July 11. But the jokes ended at the door. Arafat complained
to aides that he didn't want to be there, worried that a failure
could leave him looking like the bad guy.
Barak came to the summit with an encyclopedic knowledge of the
negotiating details and a willingness to brainstorm new ideas
with Clinton. The two engaged with enthusiasm, sunny weather
reflecting their hopes.
Arafat, who likes windy speeches, is still giving the Israeli
proposals short shrift. Clinton alternates between bursts of
anger and what aides call "the full Lyndon Johnson" treatment,
cajoling the Palestinian leader to bend.
With Clinton gone to the G-8 and Albright left to preside over
the talks, the pressure-cooker atmosphere eases. The two sides
mellow in informal sessions. Over the weekend, Albright takes
Arafat to her Hillsboro, Va., farm.
No. Finally, No
Clinton offers a bridging proposal on Jerusalem, the trickiest
issue. Barak seems to agree to it. But Arafat--despite hours of
talking--stonewalls the President. At 2:30 a.m., an Arafat aide
delivers the bad news to a somber Clinton.