Negotiating Outside the Law: Why Camp David Failed

Negotiating Outside the Law: Why Camp David Failed


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780745322193
Publisher: Pluto Press
Publication date: 08/11/2004
Pages: 336
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 9.05(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Raymond Helmick is an American Jesuit priest, and Professor of Conflict Resolution in the Department of Theology at Boston College. For over thirty years he has worked as a mediator in various conflicts, including Northern Ireland, Lebanon, Iraq, Turkey, East Timor, the countries of the former Yugoslavia and the Middle East.

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The path to the US/PLO dialogue, 1985–88

It has always been my experience that, when you write a really serious letter to someone in authority, you get a serious response. The letter I sent to Chairman Arafat late in November of 1985 confirmed this.


When I had met Arafat for the first time, the previous June, I found he conformed to none of the negative stereotypes by which we had all seen him portrayed in a constant barrage of media attack. He was instead a highly intelligent and cultivated man, anxious for serious contact with the American public, especially with Jews, serious about the peace initiative he had launched that year jointly with King Hussein of Jordan, who had always treated Arafat with suspicion and tended to keep distant from him in his own efforts at resolving the conflict. It had cost Arafat great effort to come to an understanding with the king, and in fact it would not endure beyond the next February, when the king angrily broke with him. But they were still cooperating closely when we met Arafat the night of June 22, 1985.

Arafat had led the discussion for most of our long meeting, narrating the many occasions he had tried to initiate negotiations, from his 1974 UN appearance with gun and olive branch to his support for the King Fahd proposal that eventually became the Fez plan, to his unilateral ceasefire declaration in 1981, and the proposals for negotiation at the time of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982. His discouragement showed in his concluding each of these tales with "but they would not listen." Even when he spoke of current peace efforts, not yet concluded, this closing "but they would not listen" expressed his expectation of an unfavorable outcome, though it did not exclude the hope that this time the effort might succeed.

In briefings we had received on our way, officials at the State Department and in the various US embassies along our route had always questioned whether his peace initiative with King Hussein was truly Arafat's priority. First priority for him, they felt, was the unity of the PLO under his leadership, challenged as it was in Syria and in places the Syrians controlled, such as Tripoli in the north of Lebanon, and after that the reestablishment of his military position in Lebanon. It was left to me to press Arafat on these topics, and I was impressed by his response.

I had come away from that meeting dissatisfied that we had not raised the issue of two gunboat attacks on the Israeli coast, both unsuccessful, which in my opinion gravely compromised his peace initiative. I wrote to Arafat on November 26, after the hijacking of the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro had raised the stakes of continuing Palestinian terrorism much higher. And in consequence of that letter I went to Tunis for what developed into three days of conversations with Arafat, March 4-6, 1986.


Just before I traveled to Tunis, on February 19, King Hussein had broken off his joint effort with Arafat, feeling that the PLO had not met conditions important to him. US requirements had their place in this failure. The United States objected to the linking of commitments the Palestinians were prepared to make with statements of their grievances against the Israelis. Their suggestion had been a two-paragraph statement, in which the first paragraph would be recognition and acceptance of Resolutions 242 and 338 without conditions attached, and the second would state the position of the PLO on the rights of Palestinians, mentioning other Security Council resolutions. King Hussein felt none of three successive Palestinian drafts he was shown met this US demand and he consequently broke ranks with Arafat and the PLO. But the most lasting effect of this breach with King Hussein was its detrimental effect on the readiness Palestinians had been professing to go into a confederation with Jordan rather than insist on an altogether separate state.

Language was a question for our meeting, since I have no Arabic. I knew Arafat's English, very competent but clearly not his own language, from our earlier meeting. I asked that an interpreter be present, not to translate everything but only to mediate if there were a technical word that we had to be sure we understood the same way. The interpreter was Sami Musallam, a Lutheran Christian from Jerusalem and Arafat's English-language secretary. I asked if I might take notes, to which Arafat agreed, and he also took notes himself, while Sami took down, in Arabic, a full transcript of the conversation. We met as guests of the PLO's then ambassador to Tunis. Present also were three members of the PLO Executive Council: Faruk Kaddumi, who functioned as a sort of Foreign Minister; Hani al-Hassan, who had done the actual negotiating, with Philip Habib, of the 1981 ceasefire and the 1982 PLO evacuation from Beirut; and Abdel Rahin Ahmed, who represented the Iraqi interest in the PLO.

My letter had proposed a moratorium on all use of force by the PLO for the duration of the peace initiative, and argued that such an action would also witness to the authority of the PLO with the Palestinian people, both the residents of the occupied territories and the diaspora. By the time of our meetings, though, with all the support I had from church and state organizations in the United States, I no longer felt restricted to the content of that letter, but took up the entire matter of the three preconditions that the United States and Israel demanded from the PLO before there could be any dialogue: recognition of the right of the state of Israel to exist; acceptance of UN Security Resolutions 242 and 338; and renunciation of terrorism. My letter, on the moratorium, related only to the terrorism issue. We discussed all three.

Taking up the moratorium first, Arafat made clear that a formal statement on this had to go through the formal decision-making bodies of the PLO. It had been referred to them and had much discussion, but no response was yet ready. He referred, however, to his Cairo Declaration of 1985, in which he had reiterated earlier denunciations and rejection of terrorism, and renunciation of any use of armed force outside the actual area of the occupied territories. There was so much lack of clarity in this area that we spent some time agreeing on a definition of terrorism, as distinguished from any legitimate use of force. My own definition made an analogy with war crimes. We hear people speaking now of "state terrorism," but in ordinary usage the word "terrorism" is reserved for the actions of non-state, unofficial parties. If they are not representative of a people, they have no legitimacy for the use of force, and all their armed actions will be terrorist. The same must be said if, as a truly representative body, they fail the tests of necessity or proportionality. It is central to my definition, however, that if a resistance movement is truly representative, those actions it undertakes which, if they were done by the official armed forces of a recognized state, would deserve to be punished as war crimes, should be classified as terrorist. Arafat pronounced himself quite ready to renounce any such actions.

A more general renunciation of violence in resistance to occupation, though, as moratorium or something more permanent, should not be seen as an obligation, though it could be volunteered freely as a way of proposing the peace. This was much in line with my own thinking, that such a renunciation should not imply that there was no right of resistance.

My own role in this, familiar to me from working in other conflict situations, was one of interpretation. I had followed the actions of the PLO over a long time. The literature was near infinite, but especially helpful to me had been the analysis of Alain Gresh. I looked at Palestinian experience during the whole of Arafat's chairmanship of the PLO and expressed it in analytic language that was my own. The test would be whether my hearers agreed that my analysis actually described their experience.

The PLO, as I saw it, had first proposed, in the late 1960s and up to 1974, a solution it called the "Democratic State," a unitary state in the whole territory west of the River Jordan, in which Jews and Arabs would have equal rights as citizens, and Jews, Christians, and Muslims equal religious liberty. The proposition formed part of the baggage Arafat had brought with him from Fatah when it was first admitted into the PLO.

This proposition had had to be digested and eventually accepted throughout the PLO's complex structure, all its constituent bodies and the Palestine National Congress, as well as through two distinct bodies of Palestinian public opinion: the resident population in the occupied territories and the exiled population outside. People had to ascertain which Jews they were talking about in this policy that amounted to the acceptance of the Jews. Some wanted to speak only of "anti-Zionist" Jews, of whom a few can be found in Israel. Some wanted to restrict it to Jews whose families had been in Palestine before the Balfour Declaration or before 1947. Eventually Palestinians recognized that they were talking of all the Jews and accepted all in their Democratic State proposal. Chairman Arafat himself expressed this in the course of our discussion in these terms: "We offered a civilized solution, the Democratic State, but it was rejected, by the Israelis and by the Americans."

The proposal failed, then, as a means of communication between Palestinians and Israelis, yet it remained of great importance for the Palestinians themselves. It meant that acceptance of the Jews, as a people like themselves and of equal rights, had become firmly embedded in Palestinian consciousness.

I interjected at once that I rejected it too, for the same reasons as did Israel and the United States. The proposal meant the dissolution of the separate Jewish State of Israel in favor of a new entity. The Jewish (and US) choice was for the State of Israel as a Jewish state. Hence they rejected the Democratic State out of hand. I could understand this in terms of the traumatic experience of Jewish history, because of which Jews felt they could no longer live under the sovereignty of another people.

By 1974 the PLO itself had become aware of this as an internal contradiction in its own Democratic State proposal. In essence, it had meant the acceptance of the Jews as a people having rights equal to those of Arabs. It was predicated on the inalienable right of self-determination for all peoples, as asserted in the preamble to the Charter of the UN and enshrined in international law. If the Jews decisively rejected the proposal of the Democratic State, as they clearly did, then that was their choice and by right of self-determination they were entitled to it. The Palestinians might not see this as a wise or welcome choice, but they accepted it as the choice the Israelis have freely made and persist in. The PLO would not seek to undermine that choice or that state.

It took some time for the PLO to decipher this problem. It had to work a new policy through the whole cumbersome process in all the constituent bodies of the PLO and its PNC assembly, through the very disparate bodies of public opinion among the occupied resident population and the diaspora, but from 1974 the PLO began to speak of establishing a Palestinian state or entity on any Palestinian territory from which Israel would withdraw its occupation. There was much timidity at first about using the word "state," as that immediately implied acceptance of the Israeli state. Hence the inclusion of the alternative term "entity." Eventually it became clear that the PLO was talking of the whole Palestinian territory occupied in 1967 as a result of the June war, as it did not accept (nor did Security Council Resolution 242) any right to the acquisition of territory by force or conquest. By the time, in 1981, when the PLO declared, in Lebanon, its unilateral ceasefire, Palestinians had accepted a two-state solution, a Palestinian state living alongside Israel in peace. They rejected occupation. They did not reject Israel.

The legal basis for this Jewish entitlement to the state of Israel rested on the right of self-determination, identical to the grounds on which Palestinians claimed their own state.

The conversation now took quite a dramatic turn. Arafat asked Sami Musallam, the interpreter, for an exact Arabic translation of the formula I had used: recognition of Israel on the same basis as that upon which Palestinian claims rested, the right of each people to self-determination. With the group of executive committee members, he then had an animated exchange in Arabic for several minutes. Did the formula accurately express their experience? Arafat asked that I reformulate it, had Sami translate again, and further Arabic discussion took place. Then Arafat asked that I expand on the theme, spell it out in more detail. That too was translated and discussed for some time in Arabic, until first Arafat, then each of the executive members in turn — Kaddumi, Hassan, and Rahin Ahmed — said, "That is exactly our experience."

In principle, this meant that there was no obstacle to PLO acceptance of the three preconditions: right of Israel to exist, Resolutions 242 and 338, and the renunciation of terrorism. At a more practical level there was an obstacle. The Palestinians needed to know, before they made a declaration endorsing the preconditions, what response they would get. Arafat spoke, as he often had, of this recognition as his "last card." In this and subsequent conversations I often played into that image and said that, if he played that card, he would have a whole new hand. But that was figurative language only.

In substance, Arafat needed to know what response he would get from the US and Israeli governments if he did formally accept the three preconditions. He expected that there would be no acknowledgement at all, that his statement would simply be dismissed as of no consequence. He described what he regarded as "a game of strip tease." The United States and Israel kept asking him to take one thing after another off. When he did, they would only ask that he strip himself of something more.

In this, we were no longer dealing merely in symbols. My own task, for the next two and a half years, would consequently be to traffic between Palestinians, Israelis, and US officials to determine, and communicate privately among them, what responses they might expect from any actions they took toward one another.


There were a few more events of my visit, further meetings with Arafat on the two following days, in which I took care to confirm what had been said in the first meeting. But before I had left Boston I had a telephone call from William Wilson, US ambassador to the Holy See. He had heard of my intention to visit Arafat. The Italian judge who was investigating the Achille Lauro hijacking had told him he would like to interview Arafat about Abul Abbas, the instigator of the hijack, and asked for his help. Wilson asked if I would put the question. I told him I had an agenda for this meeting and did not want to risk it, but that I would ask this if I had the chance. The opportunity came in my last session with Arafat, on March 6. His response was that he would gladly see the judge, that the interview should be informal and not an interrogation, that his relations with Italy were good and that the Italian State should request it.

I wrote my reports, for my Catholic hierarchy friends, the White House and State Department, and the Vatican Secretariat of State, and went along to discuss them at the State Department and the National Security Council. Cardinals Law and O'Connor, with the nuncio, Archbishop Laghi, presented the report themselves to Vice President George H. W. Bush, but were unable to present it at the White House, where instead it was put in the hands of Chief of Staff Donald Regan. I brought it to my Israeli friend, Consul General Michael Shiloh, and went through it in detail. He was just returning from his Boston assignment to the foreign ministry in Jerusalem, and agreed to seek appointments for me with Prime Minister Shimon Peres, Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir, and Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin when I would be in Jerusalem in the summer. This was the time of the "rotation," in which the posts of prime minister and foreign minister were to be held in turn by Peres and Shamir, each for two years.


Just before I left for Jerusalem that summer of 1986, I had the opportunity, through the friendship of Cardinal Law, to spend a Fourth of July outing at the Bush summer home in Kennebunkport, Maine, and before dinner to discuss all these topics at some length with the Vice President and his house guest, James Baker III, at that time secretary of the Treasury. When I arrived in Jerusalem on July 10, I found that, despite Michael Shiloh's efforts, Foreign Minister Shamir had taken the trouble to prevent my seeing himself, Prime Minister Peres, or Defense Minister Rabin. Instead, Mrs. Yael Vered, counselor on religious affairs at the Foreign Ministry, would see me.


Excerpted from "Negotiating Outside the Law"
by .
Copyright © 2004 Raymond G. Helmick.
Excerpted by permission of Pluto Press.
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Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Foreword by the Reverend Jesse L. Jackson, Sr.


PART ONE Building Relationships
1 The Path to the US/PLO Dialogue, 1985-1988
2 The Madrid stage and Oslo, 1990-1993,
3 Disappointments and postponements, 1993-1995

PART TWO The Failed Negotiations
1 Sad Millennium: The Disintegration of Ehud Barak
May, 1999 to July, 2000
2 Camp David
3 Negotiations Continue, August 1-September 28, 2000
4 Through the blood of the intifadah to the Taba negotiations, September 29, 2000-February 8, 2001

PART THREE Aftermath
1 The Web of Civility Dissolves, Early February to September 11, 2001
2 America goes to war, September 11, 2001 to the indefinite future
3 So what really happened at Camp David and Taba?


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