Waiting For History To Happen

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A yawning psychological gulf made the prospects unlikely for a quick settlement of issues such as Palestinian statehood, Israeli settlements and the status of Jerusalem. Arafat went into the final stretch demanding to be treated as an equal party. But he felt the Israelis never accorded him that status. "They act like they are 'giving' something to the Palestinians," complains Mohammed Dahlan, Arafat's security chief, "rather than making a historical deal."

Dahlan, 39, is a veteran leader of the first intifadeh. With his looks and street smarts, he could have been John Travolta if he had been born in California instead of Khan Yunis. Like most Palestinians, he insists that the talks center on how, not whether, Israel should evacuate the territories it conquered in 1967. U.N. Resolutions 242 and 338 stipulated a "land-for-peace" formula, a principle that had formed the basis for the Madrid Peace Conference cosponsored by the U.S. in 1991, as well as the Oslo accords. By recognizing the state of Israel at Oslo, Palestinians felt they made the most magnanimous gesture possible. They acknowledged the Jewish people's right to take 78% of the original land of Palestine, though Arabs still consider it all theirs. Naturally, says Dahlan, Palestinians expect to get back the full remaining 22%.

Talk in the Woods
Justice was supposed to emerge last summer at Camp David, when President Clinton spent more than two weeks trying to bring Oslo to fruition. Camp David, site of Egypt's 1979 peace deal with Israel, is Arab shorthand for a sellout. The Palestinians came with an old, unspoken grudge about perceived U.S. bias. They felt that the American team headed by Special Middle East Coordinator Ross had been strongly biased in favor of Israel for several years. The summit nearly collapsed on the third day, according to notes taken by the Palestinians, after Clinton submitted a draft proposal that described Jerusalem as the "united, eternal capital of Israel." Arafat banged his fist and sent it back.

Looking for traction, Clinton locked two negotiators from each side in his private office for 12 hours "to think courageously, openly, without any restrictions." According to the Palestinian notes, the Israelis insisted on keeping at least 11% of the West Bank for most of the estimated 140 Jewish settlements and on maintaining military access to the territory. On U.N. Resolution 194 of 1948, which stipulated that the refugees who fled during Israel's war of independence "should be permitted" to return to their former homes, Israel rejected any "right of return" that would be suicide for the Jewish state. And they demanded that the Old City and most of the Arab quarters of Jerusalem be under Israeli sovereignty, with only administrative "functions" granted to the Palestinians. As Palestinians saw it, the Israelis were not agreeing to a genuine independent state.

Jerusalem eventually stalemated the summit. Clinton called for a one-on-one with Arafat, pleading with him to consider a compromise granting Palestinians sovereignty over the Haram but giving Israelis sovereignty beneath it, where Jews believe the ruins of Solomon's temple lie. "Mr. President, I invite you to my funeral" was Arafat's reply, explaining that he would be a traitor if he agreed. "We may not be able to liberate Jerusalem," he said. "But someone will come and liberate it and raise his flag over it."

Clinton exploded, according to the Palestinian notes. "You are denying your people a Palestinian state," Clinton warned. "Barak came a long way. You did not." When Arafat got back to his cabin at 2 a.m., Erakat began reading out the minutes of the tense exchange and then burst into tears. The other Palestinians, some of them also weeping, got up and embraced Arafat one by one.

Camp David to King David
Today Erakat, 45, a political-science professor in owlish glasses and neatly pressed business suit, seems like the saddest man in the Palestinian territories. As Sharon takes over, Erakat is sitting behind his desk in Jericho, trying to make a joke about becoming unemployed. He reveals that following the Camp David impasse, Arafat and Barak were still conducting indirect but intensive secret negotiations aimed at achieving the comprehensive deal that eluded them in Maryland. He says a total of 53 working sessions, held as Barak was publicly refusing to talk until the violence ended, moved the two sides considerably closer toward a historic settlement. "What happened was real engagement," Erakat says. "Details on every issue--substance, maps--were discussed for the first time thoroughly."

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