Q: "Is it true that the summit failed on the question of Jerusalem?"
A: "...It would be a mistake to assign the summit's failure to
the Jerusalem question alone. The Palestinians rejected the entire Camp
David package. From that point on, the Palestinians had stopped displaying
positive attitudes, and Arafat felt that he could no longer utilize
Q: "Is Arafat to Blame?"
A: "Retrospectively, it is possible today to put things in perspective,
and it would be a mistake to get into that box [of accusing Arafat for
the failure]. [The failure was due to] an element that is much more
rudimentary and it relates to the 1993 Oslo Agreement. When Arafat signed
the Oslo Agreement in 1993, his understanding was that he would eventually
get all of his demands. This is the whole story in a nutshell. But no
one bothered to give us the heads up on this matter...why didn't they
tell us beforehand: 'guys, its worthless to go for a summit since for
us its either all or nothing'...my argument is that there is a problem
with a mythological Palestinian leader and leadership that presupposes
it has already made its concessions."
"The interesting fact is that on that same night Clinton told
them 'if you reject my proposal, at least offer your own, since at that
point in time " and this is the heart of the matter " Arafat
realized that the entire Camp David deal, even if minor adjustments
were made, is not congruent with Palestinian mythology, and thus he
did not think it was worth while..."
Q: "Was Camp David a waste of time?"
A: "In my opinion, Camp David was a momentous achievement for
Israel, since it set the blueprint for any future agreement between
us and the Palestinians. Clinton constructed his proposals based on
this blueprint, and Israel should not abandon it...Clinton's proposals
guarantee the basic principles for a just agreement with the Palestinians...they
give us three blocks of settlements, through the principle of land exchange,
and they recognize Jewish Jerusalem ...the solution to the refugee problem
will be based on a solution for two countries, whereby the right of
return will be allowed only into a Palestinian state and not into Israel."
Q: "But there were reports claiming that we agreed to a limited
number of refugees into Israel proper. Some reports were talking about
us agreeing to the return of 100,000 refuges."
A: "These reports were nothing but absolute lies. Never, not during
any stage or under any circumstance did we agree to the return of refugees..."
Q: "Is it at all possible to discuss the likelihood of [bilateral]
A: "Today, I come more and more to terms with the realization
that we cannot resolve our conflict with the Palestinians by ourselves.
It is true that we always demanded direct negotiations, which was good
during those points in time. Today, after being exposed to the Palestinian
modes of operation I no longer see a chance [for a bilateral solution].
I can not conceive of a point in time in which Arafat will tell himself:
'This is the deal I got, I am not fully satisfied with it but I am going
to go with it.' Such a point in time does not exist for the PLO. Arafat
is not a leader. He is a myth. A leader makes decisions, which sometimes
devastate his constituency, and he sometimes must pay the price with
his own career. De Gaulle was a leader. Arafat is not a leader who faces
the waves, but rather he is riding them..."
Ben-Ami: "Throughout the entire negotiation process, Arafat has
not even once explicitly demanded the return of refugees into the borders
of Israel. All he wanted is that we get him out of this 'trouble,' he
asked us to put together some kind of a formula. He agreed, for instance,
to the principle that some of the refugees be relocated to Canada and
others to Australia..."
Q: "Did Abu 'Alaa agree to this?"
A: "Of course he did. We began negotiating over numbers. Later,
Abu 'Alaa went to meet Abu Mazen who prohibited him from discussing
refugee figures, and ordered him to leave this issue open. To that,
of course, we could not agree..."
"Concluding from this, and from other events, Ben Ami does not
think that Arafat is the man Israel will be able to conclude peace with."
"'The root of the problem,'" Ben-Ami says, "'is that
in Oslo we negotiated with the leader of the Palestinian people and
not with the leader of the [Palestinian population in the] territories.
Do you know who was the first to understand this concept? It was King
Hassan of Morocco. In January of 1993 I met him. At that time I was
not in any official role. King Hassan told me he contacted Abu Mazzen
and told him: 'The Israelis will never negotiate with the PLO. Stop
putting pressure on the population of the territories and let those
who truly suffer from the occupation negotiate with Israel''"...
"Today, Ben-Ami has a clear and sober understanding regarding
the only possible solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and
how to achieve it. On the one hand, this solution must be based on Clinton's
proposals - as he presented them at Camp David - for a permanent agreement.
On the other hand, this solution must be given an international cloak,
maybe even have the UN Security Council's stamp of approval."
"...Ben-Ami rejects Sharon's alternative to a permanent agreement:
long term interim agreements. 'An interim agreement is based on the
assumption that we are unwilling to pay the heavy price and that, ostensibly,
we don't have a partner for a permanent agreement. The situation in
the territories today is the reason I don't see a chance for [an interim
agreement to be successful]."
"A long term interim agreement is based on the philosophy that
we will get security in exchange for territory. But Arafat has already
past this stage, and now he wants everything. This very concept collapsed
in front of our eyes. An interim agreement would leave three issues
open: Jerusalem, refugees and borders. As long as these issues are not
resolved, Arafat will do everything in his power in order to shape the
permanent agreement. He will continue to violate agreements, and the
world will be complacent, since the West accepts the legitimacy of agreements
being violated by the occupied. As long as the Palestinian Authority
is not a state, it will not be obliged to play by the rules of the international
game which demand the honoring of agreements. Thus, I argue that an
interim agreement will not be able to create the essential transformation
necessary for good neighborly relations with Israel."
Q: "So what is the solution?"
A: "Since I don't see a chance in negotiations that would take
place only between us and the Palestinians, the solution is a formula
similar to the one presented in the Madrid conference -- an international
framework based on Clinton's proposals and acceptable to both sides.
Since we both accepted these proposals (with some reservations), we
need to work with the international community and clarify that Israel
will not backpedal from the proposals. This is our line of defense..."
"Ben-Ami believes that the real meaning of an 'international envelope'
to the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is for pressure
to be applied on Arafat and not Israel. 'The current Israeli government
received from us an entry pass into the international community. This
entry pass says: 'the debate over whether Israel is ready for peace
or not is over'. Now that Israel has proven that which needed to be
proven, the role of the international envelope is to tell Arafat: 'you
have no escape routes left.'"
"But even the former Foreign Minister is not deluding himself
in thinking that it would be possible to reach such an international
agreement based on Clinton's proposals. 'We will be able to start the
construction work only following an explosion. We will be able to get
to this when everyone realizes that they only have something to lose
from the continuation of the current state of affairs."
Q: "Including a regional war?"
A: "Yes. Or following a serious deterioration of the current situation.
Nations and leaders arrive at the right decisions only after examining
other all possibilities..."
Q: "What you are actually saying is that there is no chance for
an interim agreement but only for a permanent agreement in the framework
of an international envelope, and that such envelope will be available
only following an immense explosion."
A: "That is exactly right. This could possibly look different
had the current [American] administration continued where Clinton left
of, but they repealed Clinton's proposals and had not offered an alternative.
This was an irresponsible thing to do. Today, the Middle East is in
a very dangerous situation. There is no Oslo and there is no alternative
for Oslo. This has produced a very dangerous vacuum here."
Q: "Throughout the negotiation process, did you ever get the sense
that Arafat prefers joining his forefathers' rather than signing an
agreement that is less than every single one of his demands?"
A: "Absolutely yes..."
[The interviewer asked Ben-Ami whether it is still feasible to search
for a peace agreement with Arafat]
Ben Ami: "...I certainly believe that Arafat is a problem if what
we are trying to achieve is a permanent agreement. I doubt that it will
be possible to reach an agreement with him. The dilemma King Hassan
pointed out to me in 1993 is still the central thorn in the peace process
today. Will the young Palestinian generation, the one who matured in
the different Intifadas, be the one to shape the future dynamics and
will he truly think in realistic terms of establishing a Palestinian
state in Judea, Samaria and Gaza, leaving peacefully side by side with
"At Camp David I wrote to my self: 'we witness here a battle of
the Palestinian generations. The older generation is disconnected --
it knew what it wanted, but it also realized it was not getting there.
The young Palestinian generation at Camp David tried to be pragmatic
but it did not have enough legitimacy. The tension between the two generations
Q: "Do you think an agreement could be reached if the young Palestinian
generation had legitimacy?"
A: "Yes. I have no doubt. But let's not delude ourselves, it all
starts and ends with Arafat. They don't know what he wants. They can
only guess. Autocracy has two characteristics. One is that the ruled
never know what is on the leader's mind. The other is that the ruled
never tell the leader the truth because they fear him..."
A: "And what if something were to happen to Arafat?"
Q: "It is true that the Palestinian society is experiencing an
unrest, but I caution us from the illusion that all of the mythical
obstacles will disappear during the sharp shift from Arafat to a post-Arafat
reality. Continuity will be necessary for a legitimacy to exist [in
any future Palestinian leadership]. Those who wish to succeed Arafat
will have to establish their position based on them being successors..."
"I know what little support Arafat has in the Persian Gulf and
that they had it with him. [Egyptian President Hosni] Mubarak told me
once that his grandson hates Arafat, precisely because they meet frequently.
We know that the regional Arab leadership is not suffering from excess
love for Arafat, but they must find a solution for the Palestinian problem.
The Arab world is not holding Arafat hostage, it is the other way around.
Arafat is the key for regional stability."