In 2000, Israel offered the Palestinians what they had long claimed to have desired, an independent Palestinian state. They rejected the offer and have conducted a premeditated war of terror that has taken the lives of more than 600 Israelis and maimed hundreds more, mostly civilians.
Had Yasser Arafat said yes to a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip instead of holding out for a Palestinian state in place of Israel, it is likely the Palestinians would be enjoying full independence today.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered the Palestinians dramatic and previously unthinkable concessions. By eschewing the piecemeal approach of Oslo, Barak hoped to bring the conflict to an end, but Arafat was unwilling to make peace. "For him to end the conflict is to end himself," said Ambassador Dennis Ross, the chief negotiator for the U.S.
According to Ambassador Ross, Barak offered to withdraw from 95% of the West Bank and 100% of the Gaza Strip and to allow the Palestinians to establish an independent state.
Putting the lie to the old refrain that settlements are an obstacle to peace, Barak offered to dismantle isolated settlements and Arafat himself agreed to allow Israel to maintain blocs of settlements within the area annexed to Israel. Not even removing the hated settlements could move Arafat to make peace.
A year after the summits, apologists for the Palestinians claimed Arafat turned down the deal because it would have left the Palestinians with only cantons. This is simply a lie. Ambassador Ross states flatly that Israel offered to create a Palestinian state that was contiguous.
Barak also made previously unthinkable concessions on Jerusalem, agreeing that Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem would become the capital of the new state and the Palestinians would have "religious sovereignty" over the Temple Mount.
Israel also addressed the concern about the Palestinian refugees. Since every Israeli leader since Ben-Gurion has said that allowing the refugees to return to Israel would be suicide, and even Palestinians such as Sari Nusseibeh acknowledged it was an unreasonable demand, Barak guaranteed the right of Palestinian refugees to return to the Palestinian state and proposed that they receive reparations from a $30 billion international fund.
Contrary also to subsequent Palestinian claims that Israel planned to deny the new state access to water, Israel agreed to give the Palestinians desalinization plants to ensure them adequate water.
In return for these risky Israeli concessions, Arafat was asked to accept Israeli sovereignty over the parts of the Western Wall religiously significant to Jews, and three early warning stations in the Jordan Valley, which Israel would withdraw from after six years. Most important, however, Arafat was expected to agree that the conflict was over at the end of the negotiations. This was the deal breaker. Arafat was not willing to end the conflict.
The consensus of Mideast analysts — that Israel offered generous concessions and that Arafat rejected them to pursue a violent insurrection — was undisputed for more than a year before the Palestinians recognized they had to counter the widespread view that Arafat was the obstacle to peace. They subsequently manufactured excuses for why Arafat failed to say "yes" to a proposal that would have established a Palestinian state. Had the terms of the proposal really been the problem, all Arafat had to do was offer a counterproposal. He never did.