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26 May 2005 Edition

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Israel's dishonourable deal

Book Review

Negotiating Outside the Law: Why Camp David Failed

By Raymond G Helmick

Pluto Press (2004) £19.95

This is an insightful book by an American diplomat who worked for over two decades with Palestinian and Israeli parties to help construct the Middle East Peace Process. Like the Irish Peace Process, however, it has now become bogged down in seemingly interminable wrangling instead of getting on to deal with the substantive issues of national rights and sovereignty.

Helmick, a Jesuit priest who acted as a mediator behind the scenes for the Bush Snr and Clinton administrations, is a consummate diplomat who writes in measured tones. So his insights are all the more telling and cannot be easily dismissed as having an unfair bias.

His call is that the Camp David peace talks in 2000, which were aimed at bringing about a final settlement to the 1993 Oslo accords, foundered on the rock of Israeli bad faith and deception. Contrary to the media spin by Israeli and US officials, the Palestinian side, led by the late Yasser Arafat, was ready to do an honourable deal. The Palestinians had moved to accept a two-state solution instead of their former and very reasonable aspiration of a single Palestinian state, accommodating Muslims, Jews, Christians and whomever.

Crucially, the Palestinians had adopted the position as early as 1988 which accepted the boundaries of the Israeli state based on the 1967 borders. This was a huge concession, since these borders were established by illegal occupation, under international law, following the Six Day War.

The trouble, in concluding a final, mutual settlement, according to Helmick, was that the Israelis did not "have a bottom line". In other words, they saw every round of negotiation as a striptease act in which the Palestinians would be forced to shed more and more concessions.

The underlying problem, clear from his seasoned observations, although Helmick is too diplomatic to say so, is one of inequality. From the outset of peace initiatives in the mid-1980s, successive Israeli administrations simply did not, and presumably still do not, regard the Palestinians as equals.

Another fundamental problem hampering the pursuit of justice and peace in the Middle East is that the US presents itself as a peace broker instead of being seen, rightly, as a protagonist on the Israeli side, aiding and abetting the illegal occupation of Palestinian territories. This phony status allows Israeli bad faith and deception to go unchecked and continually thwarts any meaningful peace process.


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