Aaron David Miller: The 2000 Peace Talks at Camp David - How Not to Host a Summit





Aaron David Miller is a distinguished scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. His forthcoming book is titled Can America Have Another Great President? "Reality Check," his column for ForeignPolicy.com, runs weekly.

Twelve years ago this week, U.S. President Bill Clinton, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, and Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat gathered at Camp David to launch a historic bid to put an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
 
The historic nature of the gathering can't be denied. The discussions there began the excruciatingly painful process of coming to terms with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict's toughest issues. Indeed, for nearly two weeks in Maryland's stunningly beautiful Catoctin Mountain Park, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators wrestled with the core issues of the conflict -- territory, refugees, security, and, of course, Jerusalem -- in front of a U.S. president. If the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is finally resolved, what happened at Camp David that summer will be viewed as an important part of the negotiating history.
 
There were movies -- Gladiator and the submarine World War II classic U-571 (wasn't this a peace summit?) -- and spectator sports (watching Israelis and Palestinians race around the narrow walking paths on golf carts at breakneck speeds chattering in Arabic and Hebrew). One of the carts went missing at the summit's end. We joked that maybe one of the Palestinians and Israelis had tried to drive it home.
 
There were crises (Barak nearly choked to death on a peanut, only to be saved by the youngest member of his delegation). There were comedic highs (Arafat watching the baseball All-Star Game and earnestly asking in the fifth inning when the game was going to start). And dramatic lows -- Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, in an effort to cheer up a brooding Barak, offered to move a piano into his cabin after he retreated there, sulking like Achilles at Troy over prospects that Arafat really wasn't interested in reaching an accord. And there was fantastic food, and plenty of it -- three squares and then some. Indeed, the food was about the only thing at Camp David Israelis and Palestinians seemed not to complain about.
 
What was not evident at the Camp David summit was a sustained, well-organized, and serious negotiation, let alone a directed effort, to reach an Israeli-Palestinian agreement.
 
The debate over who lost Camp David rages on still...



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