Prophets with­out Hon­or: The 2000 Camp David Sum­mit and the End of the Two-State Solution

Shlo­mo Ben-Ami

  • Review
By – May 23, 2022

Shlo­mo Ben-Ami is unique­ly qual­i­fied to write an account of the failed Israeli-Pales­tin­ian sum­mit known as Camp David II. A trained his­to­ri­an, and lat­er a diplo­mat and cab­i­net offi­cer, Ben-Ami, for­eign min­is­ter in Ehud Barak’s gov­ern­ment, was a chief par­tic­i­pant in the events he describes and ana­lyzes. He brings his skill as his­to­ri­an to his role as par­tic­i­pant and vice ver­sa. Ben-Ami has writ­ten exten­sive­ly about the his­to­ry of the Israeli-Pales­tin­ian con­flict in his 2006 book Scars of War, Wounds of Peace: The Israeli-Arab Tragedy, which ana­lyzed the long and unsuc­cess­ful search for some solu­tion to what has been one of the world’s longest run­ning crises. In his new book, he brings fur­ther detail about what hap­pened at Camp David in the wan­ing days of Ehud Barak’s gov­ern­ment and an analy­sis of what the fail­ure to secure an agree­ment at that time has meant in the twen­ty years since.

Camp David II was designed to be the last phase of the peace process that began with the Oslo Accords between Yitzhak Rabin and Yass­er Arafat. Pre­ced­ed by pub­lic nego­ti­a­tions and secret talks between the par­ties, the sum­mit was con­vened by US pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton at the site of the first Camp David Sum­mit between Men­achem Begin and Anwar Sadat. Clinton’s term of office was near­ing its end and, accord­ing to Ben-Ami, he was sin­cere­ly deter­mined to secure a solu­tion to the intractable con­flict. Barak’s gov­ern­ment was in a shaky state, and his tenure in office was shad­owed by the like­li­hood of a new elec­tion and cer­tain loss to Ariel Sharon. In Ben-Ami’s view, the sum­mit came as close to any pre­vi­ous to pro­vid­ing a res­o­lu­tion but failed to do so as a result of flaws on all sides: Clin­ton was not an effec­tive medi­a­tor; Barak was a reluc­tant and clum­sy nego­tia­tor; and Arafat was his usu­al elu­sive self, avoid­ing mak­ing the hard final deci­sion, always seek­ing fur­ther and fur­ther con­ces­sions than the Israelis were will­ing to make. Ben-Ami pro­vides cogent analy­sis of Arafat’s char­ac­ter and motives, based not only on the exten­sive pub­lic record of Arafat’s actions and non-actions but also on Ben-Ami’s per­son­al con­tact with the PLO leader.

The account of the sum­mit takes up only the first sec­tion of the book; the rest com­pris­es an account of the con­tin­u­ing efforts to find a way to break the stale­mate in the months imme­di­ate­ly fol­low­ing (in the shad­ow of the Sec­ond Intifa­da); and an exten­sive analy­sis of efforts since, up to, and includ­ing the recent Deal of the Cen­tu­ry” devel­oped by the Trump admin­is­tra­tion. The book pro­vides a cogent analy­sis of why the fail­ure of Camp David II has been so trag­ic and why the answer to this tor­tured rela­tion­ship may prove to be ever elusive.

Posi­tions have hard­ened under the move­ment to the right of recent Israeli gov­ern­ments and the grow­ing influ­ence of rad­i­cal Islam­ic fac­tions in Pales­tine. The Arab world seems less con­cerned with the Pales­tin­ian plight, and oth­er world crises have tak­en cen­ter stage. What­ev­er the out­come, Ben-Ami thinks it won’t be the two-state solu­tion long the object of the nego­ti­a­tions. Over­all, Ben-Ami pro­vides a clear-eyed and bal­anced view of all the options and pro­vides a nec­es­sary clear­ing out of all the worn-out clich­es, myths, and shib­bo­leths that have enveloped this long conflict.

Mar­tin Green is pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus at Fair­leigh Dick­in­son Uni­ver­si­ty, where he taught lit­er­a­ture and media stud­ies. He is work­ing on a book about Amer­i­can pop­u­lar peri­od­i­cals in the 1920s.

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