On this day 17 years ago, US President Bill Clinton began hosting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat for a 15-day summit at Camp David, aimed at ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The summit was an opportunity to end decades of conflict, but ended without resolution.

Israeli, Palestinian, and American leaders at Camp David (Time Magazine)

Israel had already shown it was willing to give up territory for peace, as it had done with Egypt just 22 years earlier, and was keen to do so again with the Palestinians. During the negotiations, Israel offered the Palestinians the establishment of a state in 100% of the Gaza Strip, and 92% of the West Bank. This meant Israel offered to withdraw from 63 settlements both in the West Bank and Gaza.

Israel’s peace offer would also have given Palestinians sovereignty in parts of Eastern Jerusalem such as Abu Dis, and A-Ram, allowing the Palestinians to make these areas their capital. Israel even offered Palestinians sovereignty over more than half of the Old City of Jerusalem, with the Muslim and Christian Quarters moving over to the new Palestinian state, as well as Palestinian custodianship over the Temple Mount, Judaism’s holiest site.

However, Israel’s peace offer was rejected by the Palestinians. Regarding Jerusalem, the Palestinians demanded full sovereignty over all of Eastern Jerusalem, including removing Israeli sovereignty from the Jewish Quarter of the Old City and the Western Wall. The Palestinians also demanded the removal of all Jews from neighborhoods built beyond the Green Line.

The Palestinians also refused to compromise on the issue of refugees. Arafat demanded the ‘Right of Return’ for all Palestinians who left Israel during the 1948 War of Independence, including their descendants. They demanded that the ‘refugees’, who number over four million, be allowed to move to not just the new Palestinian state, but to Israel. The result of over four million Palestinians moving into Israel would be catastrophic to the demographic makeup of the State of Israel, meaning the only Jewish state in the world would lose its Jewish majority. In practice, this would mean the end of the State of Israel.

Much of the blame for the failure of the summit was put on the Palestinians. US President Clinton blamed the Palestinian leader, saying “Arafat missed the opportunity to bring that [Palestinian] nation into being”. Clinton also wrote that Arafat once complimented him, saying, “You are a great man.” Clinton responded, “I am not a great man. I am a failure, and you made me one.”

The Camp David Summit in 2000 was yet another example where the Palestinians refused an offer for peace. The Jews accepted the 1947 UN Partition Plan, the Palestinians did not. And Israel offered Palestinian statehood again in 2008 under Ehud Olmert, yet this was also rejected by the Palestinians.

Israeli Prime Minister Olmert’s peace offer in 2008

Palestinians have long demanded an independent state, yet every time they have been offered one, they have turned it down. 17 years after the failed Camp David Summit, another attempt for peace could be on the horizon with the new US Administration. The ball will once again be in the Palestinians’ court. Do you want peace, and do you want a state? Only the Palestinians can answer that question.

Contributed by Daniel Kosky, CAMERA Intern

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