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Open Letter to Yassir Arafat from Clovis Maksoud

The following open letter to Palestinian Authority President Yassir Arafat from former Arab League Ambassador to the US and the UN Clovis Maksoud appeared in numerous Arabic newspapers today, Monday, July 10, 2000.


I thought long and hard, for the sake of our friendship and shared memories, before putting pen to paper.

What I want to say today, on the eve of the second Camp David summit, has already been said many times by opponents of the Oslo accords. It has also been said by some supporters of those accords -- those who promoted them as "realistic," arguing that dealing with Israel was the
only way to get closer to the United States. And that, incidentally, was another reason why I was reluctant to write this letter: I wanted to avoid repeating things that have already been said. A lot has been written in recent days about tomorrow's summit, most of it clear, accurate understanding of the challenges, and recognizing (although such recognition came late to some people) the true intentions and policies of the Zionists. If a few still entertained hopes of some last-minute Israeli display of "flexibility," then Barak's reiteration of his infamous "red lines" was enough (I hope) to make them change their minds and let go of what Oslo mirages they might still entertain.

Yet despite my reluctance, and despite the recently stated adherence of the Palestinian Central Council (PCC) to the objectives of the Palestinian people, I remained suspicious. I became more and more concerned because I was suspicious that all that has been said about "Barak destroying the summit beforehand" by those who took part in secret or public negotiations with the Israelis at Oslo and Stockholm was only a ploy designed to absorb Palestinian anger, and not an accurate prediction by committed people.

Another cause for my concern was that many of us aren't really sure whether what the PCC's statement said about its intention to embody the declaration of an independent Palestinian state with (East) Jerusalem as its capital was driven by sullenness or was a true expression of anger at the futility of the peace negotiations with the Israelis.

If the statement was issued out of sullenness, then the ball is still in the American/Israeli court -- enabling the Israelis to call the shots. If, however, the statement was an expression of Palestinian anger, then the ball will return to the wider Arab court -- and not be restricted
only to the few Arab countries that have normalized relations with Israel; those countries that Barak visited before attending Tuesday's summit.

Despite the fact that the Arab environment is unprepared (as it stands at the moment) to deal with the proverbial ball in the best possible way, the positions you will adopt in the days ahead will go a long way either toward correcting the sorry state of the pan-Arab nation or else deepening the Arab disarray. With this in mind, the reason why all those concerned at the future of the Arab nation, and those committed to the Palestinian people's rights, are so worried becomes clear.

In spite of the fact that President Clinton called this summit in order to defuse the crisis in the peace process, one of the main causes of concern lies in the way the Americans have been trying to deal with this crisis (the same way they have dealt with the peace process between Israel and the various Arab parties in the past). The American mediators have always put pressure on the Arab side(s) -- particularly the Palestinian side -- while calling on the Israelis to "soften" their hard line. Previous experience has shown that these pressures, sometimes coated in sweet rhetoric (as is expected to happen at tomorrow's summit), are designed to cover up America's total bias toward Israel. How else can we explain the Americans describing each Israeli implementation of a minor clause in agreements they had already signed as a major concession and a sacrifice by Israel?

This mentality -- which characterizes U.S. policy as well as American negotiating tactics -- makes it impossible to query what "Israeli security" really means, how adjustable it is, and whether it is a
justification for Israeli attacks on its neighbors. It prevents the Americans from even asking the Israelis what eventual "borders" -- if any -- they have in mind for their state.

More serious is the gradual watering down of the American position as far as Jewish settlements are concerned. These settlements were first described by president Jimmy Carter as illegal. In the Reagan-Bush years, they became "an obstacle to peace." When Clinton assumed office, they began to be described as unhelpful. Now, though, the settlements (or at least most of them) have become facts the Palestinians are required to live with. Moreover, neither the American "mediators," nor indeed the Palestinian negotiators, have tried to force the Israelis to admit that they are in fact in occupation of Palestinian lands.

The impasse you find yourself in now is a direct result of neglecting the latter issue. Failing to lay down a legal framework for the whole process has enabled the Israelis to persist in their policies of Judaization, settlement -building and annexation; the Israelis have never considered themselves bound -- as an occupying power -- to implement the clauses of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Ignoring this legal point is what allowed the Israelis to flout UN resolutions. It is what made procrastination the most obvious characteristic in Israeli behavior, as well as enabling Israel to mobilize its American supporters -- especially in Congress -- to abort any serious U.S. attempt to correct the situation. This is not the time to question the performance of the Palestinian negotiators since Oslo in 1993. I believe that any objective analysis on your part will arrive at the same conclusions which all opponents of the Oslo process predicted at the time: that agreeing to Oslo, together with all the mistakes and sins flowing from it, as a realistic and pragmatic course to adapt to international and regional changes, was a wrong decision.

While it is certainly true that the Palestinian side had to take such changes into account, that didn't have to mean surrendering to their perceived continuity and control over the fates of nations. The best example in this regard was recently given by the Lebanese Resistance. The Lebanese, supported by international legitimacy, managed to vanquish the false realism the Israelis tried to impose on South Lebanon. They succeeded, by raising the cost of occupying the south, in forcing the Israelis to withdraw after the collapse of their proxies. They achieved
a great victory for what the Americans spent the last 20 years describing as "terrorism."

While we are on the subject of South Lebanon, I would like to say that many of your supporters were dismayed when you described this historic achievement as merely "Barak's wish" to implement UN Security Council Resolution 425 -- after the Israelis had flouted that resolution for
almost a quarter century.

Tomorrow's tripartite summit at Camp David will put the whole Arab nation face to face with crucial decisions -- in addition to posing a grave challenge to the fate of the Palestinians. This is, without exaggeration, a statement of fact. That is why I feel concerned. What aggravates my concern is past experience with summits such as this, which have usually been stage-managed for domestic U.S. consumption, but which have always resulted in false hopes and an accumulation of benefits for the Israelis ? allowing them to go forth in fulfilling their Zionist dream, achieving breakthroughs on the Arab front, winning international legitimacy, and even entertaining the possibility of winning a seat on the UN Security Council (despite their history of
flouting every resolution the Council has passed).

We as Arabs have the right to share your concerns. We also have the right to express our opinions and take part in making decisions. Palestine is, after all (as you have always said), part of the Arab nation. A victory for Palestine is a victory for the whole Arab nation, and vice versa. Jerusalem, while being Palestine's capital city, is also an integral part of the Arab nation's psyche and its historical and spiritual values. Demanding that Jerusalem become the capital of an independent Arab Palestine is also an act of faith on behalf of all Arabs and a spiritual act on behalf of all Moslems and Christians.

Indeed, we as Arabs are fully entitled to take part in all deliberations because we fully believe that the right of refugees to return to their homes is sacrosanct. No one is entitled to give this right away, since the refugees themselves insist on exercising it. Failing to uphold this right is nothing short of support for establishing an apartheid system in the heart of Palestine -- at a time when the international community is taking steps to fight racial discrimination in all its forms.

We are greatly concerned when we hear of plans to facilitate "distributing" the Palestinian refugees among different countries, settling some them in their countries of refuge, and only "allowing" a small proportion (as a favor from Israel) to return home on the basis of family reunification. What makes matters worse is that an aide of yours, a Mohammad Rashid (a/k/a Khaled Salam), has been citing figures in the billions of dollars as the price for giving up the right of return. We call upon you to clarify the role this individual is going to play in the negotiating team you are planning to head to the summit. Tampering with the right of return in any way, shape or form is taboo. Any doubts on this position will only serve to deepen the crisis of confidence already being stoked up by those opposed to the Palestinian people's rights, especially the refugees' right to return and compensation.