Dennis Ross on the “Camp David myths” of the anti-Israel crowd

April 25, 2002


[Note by Tom Gross]

This is the transcript from this week's interview on American TV with Dennis Ross, the senior Middle East advisor to President Clinton, in which he dispels once and for all the Palestinian propaganda regularly parroted as fact in the European and some parts of the U.S. media that Bill Clinton and Ehud Barak offered Arafat non-contiguous territory in the West Bank at the Camp David and Taba talks.

Ross confirms that Barak offered Arafat all of Gaza, a net of 97 percent of the West Bank, 2 percent of pre-1967 Israel, and a capital in east Jerusalem. Ross says "those who say there were cantons, this is completely untrue. [The territory offered in the West Bank] was contiguous."

Ross says Arafat was offered a "Right of Return" for refugees to the nascent Palestinian state and $30 Billion fund to compensate refugees, and Arafat turned it all down, against the pleadings of his own Palestinian advisors.

-- Tom Gross


A summary by Dennis Ross of what was offered and what took place at the Camp David and Taba negotiations:

1. Yasser Arafat presented no ideas at Camp David.

2. The Taba talks would have happened in late September if not for the outbreak of violence. Arafat knew the US was ready to make a proposal and thus promised to control the violence, but didn't. (I think he was hoping that he could leverage the violence into political gain.)

3. All of Gaza and a net of 97% of the West Bank were offered at Taba.

4. The West Bank area offered was contiguous, not "cantons".

5. The Jordan valley would be under Israeli patrol for only 6 years.

6. The Palestinians were offered a capital in eastern Jerusalem.

7. There would be a "Right of Return" to the nascent Palestinian state.

8. A $30 Billion fund to compensate refugees would be set up.

9. Taba was rushed due to Clinton's, not Barak's, end of term.

10. Members of the PA delegation thought Taba was the best they could hope to get and encouraged Arafat to accept it.

11. Arafat accepted everything he was given at Taba, but rejected everything he was supposed to give.

12. Arafat scuttled the Camp David offer. Arafat scuttled the Taba offer. Arafat scuttled the Mitchell plan. Arafat scuttled the Tenet plan. Arafat scuttled the Zinni plan.


Transcript: Dennis Ross, Former U.S. Special Envoy to the Middle East
FOX News Sunday
April 21, 2002.,2933,50863,00.html

BRIT HUME, HOST: Former Middle East envoy Dennis Ross has worked to achieve Middle East peace throughout President Clinton's final days in office. In the months following Clinton's failed peace summit at Camp David, U.S. negotiators continued behind-the-scenes peace talks with the Palestinians and Israelis up until January 2001, and that followed Clinton's presentation of ideas at the end of December 2000.

Dennis Ross joins us now with more details on all that, and Fred Barnes joins the questioning.

So, Dennis, talk to us a little bit, if you can I might note that we're proud to able to say that you're a Fox News contributing analyst.


HUME: Talk to us about the sequence of events. The Camp David talks, there was an offer. That was rejected. Talks continued. You come now to December, and the president has a new set of ideas. What unfolded?

ROSS: Let me give you the sequence, because I think it puts all this in perspective.

Number one, at Camp David we did not put a comprehensive set of ideas on the table. We put ideas on the table that would have affected the borders and would have affected Jerusalem.

Arafat could not accept any of that. In fact, during the 15 days there, he never himself raised a single idea. His negotiators did, to be fair to them, but he didn't. The only new idea he raised at Camp David was that the temple didn't exist in Jerusalem, it existed in Nablus.

HUME: This is the temple where Ariel Sharon paid a visit, which was used as a kind of a pre-text for the beginning of the new intifada, correct?

ROSS: This is the core of the Jewish faith.

HUME: Right.

ROSS: So he was denying the core of the Jewish faith there. After the summit, he immediately came back to us and he said, "We need to have another summit," to which we said, "We just shot our wad. We got a no from you. You're prepared actually do a deal before we go back to something like that."

He agreed to set up a private channel between his people and the Israelis, which I joined at the end of August. And there were serious discussions that went on, and we were poised to present our ideas the end of September, which is when the intifada erupted. He knew we were poised to present the ideas. His own people were telling him they looked good. And we asked him to intervene to ensure there wouldn't be violence after the Sharon visit, the day after. He said he would. He didn't lift a finger.

Now, eventually we were able to get back to a point where private channels between the two sides led each of them to again ask us to present the ideas. This was in early December. We brought the negotiators here.

HUME: Now, this was a request to the Clinton administration...

ROSS: Yes.

HUME: ... to formulate a plan. Both sides wanted this?

ROSS: Absolutely.

HUME: All right.

ROSS: Both sides asked us to present these ideas.

HUME: All right. And they were?

ROSS: The ideas were presented on December 23 by the president, and they basically said the following: On borders, there would be about a 5 percent annexation in the West Bank for the Israelis and a 2 percent swap. So there would be a net 97 percent of the territory that would go to the Palestinians.

On Jerusalem, the Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem would become the capitol of the Palestinian state.

On the issue of refugees, there would be a right of return for the refugees to their own state, not to Israel, but there would also be a fund of $30 billion internationally that would be put together for either compensation or to cover repatriation, resettlement, rehabilitation costs.

And when it came to security, there would be a international presence, in place of the Israelis, in the Jordan Valley.

These were ideas that were comprehensive, unprecedented, stretched very far, represented a culmination of an effort in our best judgment as to what each side could accept after thousands of hours of debate, discussion with each side.

BARNES: Now, Palestinian officials say to this day that Arafat said yes.

ROSS: Arafat came to the White House on January 2. Met with the president, and I was there in the Oval Office. He said yes, and then he added reservations that basically meant he rejected every single one of the things he was supposed to give.

HUME: What was he supposed to give?

ROSS: He supposed to give, on Jerusalem, the idea that there would be for the Israelis sovereignty over the Western Wall, which would cover the areas that are of religious significance to Israel. He rejected that.

HUME: He rejected their being able to have that?

ROSS: He rejected that.

He rejected the idea on the refugees. He said we need a whole new formula, as if what we had presented was non-existent.

He rejected the basic ideas on security. He wouldn't even countenance the idea that the Israelis would be able to operate in Palestinian airspace.

You know when you fly into Israel today you go to Ben Gurion. You fly in over the West Bank because you can't there's no space through otherwise. He rejected that.

So every single one of the ideas that was asked of him he rejected.

HUME: Now, let's take a look at the map. Now, this is what how the Israelis had created a map based on the president's ideas. And...

ROSS: Right.

HUME: ... what can we that situation shows that the territory at least is contiguous. What about Gaza on that map?

ROSS: The Israelis would have gotten completely out of Gaza. And what you see also in this line, they show an area of temporary Israeli control along the border.

HUME: Right.

ROSS: Now, that was an Israeli desire. That was not what we presented. But we presented something that did point out that it would take six years before the Israelis would be totally out of the Jordan Valley.

So that map there that you see, which shows a very narrow green space along the border, would become part of the orange. So the Palestinians would have in the West Bank an area that was contiguous. Those who say there were cantons, completely untrue. It was contiguous.

HUME: Cantons being ghettos, in effect...

ROSS: Right.

HUME: ... that would be cut off from other parts of the Palestinian state.

ROSS: Completely untrue.

And to connect Gaza with the West Bank, there would have been an elevated highway, an elevated railroad, to ensure that there would be not just safe passage for the Palestinians, but free passage.

BARNES: I have two other questions. One, the Palestinians point out that this was never put on paper, this offer. Why not?

ROSS: We presented this to them so that they could record it. When the president presented it, he went over it at dictation speed. He then left the cabinet room. I stayed behind. I sat with them to be sure, and checked to be sure that every single word.

The reason we did it this way was to be sure they had it and they could record it. But we told the Palestinians and Israelis, if you cannot accept these ideas, this is the culmination of the effort, we withdraw them. We did not want to formalize it. We wanted them to understand we meant what we said. You don't accept it, it's not for negotiation, this is the end of it, we withdraw it.

So that's why they have it themselves recorded. And to this day, the Palestinians have not presented to their own people what was available.

BARNES: In other words, Arafat might use it as a basis for further negotiations so he'd get more?

ROSS: Well, exactly.

HUME: Which is what, in fact, he tried to do, according to your account.

ROSS: We treated it as not only a culmination. We wanted to be sure it couldn't be a floor for negotiations.

HUME: Right.

ROSS: It couldn't be a ceiling. It was the roof.

HUME: This was a final offer?

ROSS: Exactly. Exactly right.

HUME: This was the solution.

BARNES: Was Arafat alone in rejecting it? I mean, what about his negotiators?

ROSS: It's very clear to me that his negotiators understood this was the best they were ever going to get. They wanted him to accept it. He was not prepared to accept it.

HUME: Now, it is often said that this whole sequence of talks here sort of fell apart or ended or broke down or whatever because of the intervention of the Israeli elections. What about that?

ROSS: The real issue you have to understand was not the Israeli elections. It was the end of the Clinton administration. The reason we would come with what was a culminating offer was because we were out of time.

They asked us to present the ideas, both sides. We were governed by the fact that the Clinton administration was going to end, and both sides said we understand this is the point of decision.

HUME: What, in your view, was the reason that Arafat, in effect, said no?

ROSS: Because fundamentally I do not believe he can end the conflict. We had one critical clause in this agreement, and that clause was, this is the end of the conflict.

Arafat's whole life has been governed by struggle and a cause. Everything he has done as leader of the Palestinians is to always leave his options open, never close a door. He was being asked here, you've got to close the door. For him to end the conflict is to end himself.

HUME: Might it not also have been true, though, Dennis, that, because the intifada had already begun so you had the Camp David offer rejected, the violence begins anew, a new offer from the Clinton administration comes along, the Israelis agree to it, Barak agrees to it...

ROSS: Yes.

HUME: ... might he not have concluded that the violence was working?

ROSS: It is possible he concluded that. It is possible he thought he could do and get more with the violence. There's no doubt in my mind that he thought the violence would create pressure on the Israelis and on us and maybe the rest of the world.

And I think there's one other factor. You have to understand that Barak was able to reposition Israel internationally. Israel was seen as having demonstrated unmistakably it wanted peace, and the reason it wasn't available, achievable was because Arafat wouldn't accept it.

Arafat needed to re-establish the Palestinians as a victim, and unfortunately they are a victim, and we see it now in a terrible way.

HUME: Dennis Ross, thank you so much.



Myths of the Intifada
Yasser Arafat has propagated three myths about the deals he turned down. Now Dennis Ross has set the record straight.
By Fred Barnes
The Weekly Standard
April 25, 2002

Palestinian and other apologists for Yasser Arafat have propagated three myths about his failure to reach peace with Israel. And only now--two years after Israeli Palestinian peace talks collapsed because of Arafat's intransigence is the truth becoming known. This is mostly thanks to Dennis Ross, the Middle East negotiator for both the first Bush administration and President Clinton.

The first myth is that the final deal offered to Arafat would have created a new Palestinian state fragmented into four "cantons" on the West Bank, each surrounded by Israeli territory, none connected to Gaza. It was understandably unacceptable to the Palestinians. The second is that Arafat actually accepted a later, more generous peace settlement, only to have it nullified by the election of Ariel Sharon as Israeli prime minister in February 2001. And the third is that this final offer, an official United States proposal made by Clinton, was never put on paper, making it a matter not to be taken seriously, then or now. (Yes, the myths conflict. Arafat is said to have turned down one final deal but accepted another, later, final offer.)

Myth number one has an element of truth. Indeed, the terms of the peace settlement offered by then-Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak at Camp David in July 2000 involved four separate clusters of territory on the West Bank and no land link to Gaza. Arafat said no and didn't make a counteroffer. Instead, in September, he started a violent new intifada, or insurrection, against Israel. But the myth, persistently voiced by such Arafat sympathizers as James Zogby of the Arab American Institute and the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, is that this was the final peace proposal. It wasn't.

Following the Camp David summit, Arafat asked for another meeting, according to Ross, and was told he would need to be prepared to accept a deal before a new summit would be set up. So Arafat "agreed to set up a private channel between his people and the Israelis," Ross told Brit Hume on "Fox News Sunday" on April 21. Arafat knew the United States was "poised to present our ideas" when he ordered a new intifada. The United States asked Arafat to prevent violence from erupting after Sharon's provocative visit to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem and he said he would. "He didn't lift a finger," Ross said.

In December 2000, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators were brought to Washington. And on December 23, President Clinton presented a new plan to them. The Palestinians would get 97 percent of the West Bank, Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem would become the capital of the new Palestinian state, refugees would be allowed to return to Palestine but not Israel, and a $30 billion fund would be established to compensate refugees. This was the final offer: The cantons were gone and a land link to Gaza was included.

And that leads into myth two, that Arafat accepted the fresh and far more generous proposal. True, he said yes when he met with Clinton on January 2, 2001, in the Oval Office. "Then he added reservations that basically meant he rejected every single one of the things he was supposed to give," Ross said. He rejected the idea Israelis would have sovereignty over the Western Wall in Jerusalem and other religious sites. He rejected the scheme for refugees and what Ross called "the basic ideas on security... So every single one of the ideas that was asked of him, he rejected." How can Ross be so sure of that? He was in the room with Clinton and Arafat when it happened.

As for myth three, Palestinian spokeswoman Hanan Ashrawi and others have dismissed the U.S. offer, which the Israelis under Barak were willing to accept, as so inconsequential it wasn't even written down and publicly announced. But by late 2000, Ross said, Americans had learned Arafat's negotiating style. Any formal offer would be taken as the floor for further negotiations requiring more Israeli concessions. But with the Clinton administration soon to leave office, there wasn't time to allow Arafat to prolong talks. "We wanted them to understand we meant what we said," Ross said. "You don't accept it, it's not for negotiation, this is the end of it, we withdraw it... It couldn't be the floor for negotiations. It was the roof." So for Arafat, it was take it or leave it. He left it, and soon the negotiating environment changed with the election of Sharon and George W. Bush.

In truth, the offer was written down when it was initially presented by Clinton in December. "He went over it at dictation speed," Ross said. After Clinton left the meeting, Ross stayed behind to make certain the Palestinian negotiators had gotten "every single word." They had. A footnote: Ross insists the Palestinian negotiators were ready to accept the offer. They "understood this was the best they were ever going to get. They wanted [Arafat] to accept it." He refused. Why? Ross believes Arafat simply doesn't want to end the conflict with Israel. His career is governed by struggle and leaving his options open. "For him to end the conflict is to end himself," Ross said.

What's important about the history of peace talks in the Middle East is what it tells us about Arafat. The inescapable conclusion is that he will never reach a settlement with Israelis leading to two countries, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace. The Israelis? An honest recounting of the Clinton-led peace talks shows they were willing, though hardly eager, to make substantial concessions to reach a settlement. Had Arafat gone along, Ross believes Barak could have sold the deal to the Israeli people, even as Palestinian terrorism continued and Sharon's election victory loomed. Maybe so, but that was a moment in time that, because of Arafat, has now passed away.

(Fred Barnes is executive editor of The Weekly Standard)

All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.