The Australian newspaper

Comment: While TheCourier-Mail labelled me anti-Semitic for allowing freedom of opinion on my on-line newspaper consider the "anti-Semitic" comments in this opinion piece by Scott Burchill carried in The Australian... owned by News Limited - like The Courier-Mail. Note also the dishonesty of the extreme Jewish institutions who were labelling me "anti-Semitic".

An offer too easy to refuse

By Scott Burchill
May 10, 2002

THE strategy is familiar and widely adopted, but it is entirely dishonest. By arguing that Yasser Arafat refused an Israeli offer of "unprecedented generosity and concession" at Camp David in July 2000 – with claims that he rejected anything from 80 to 98 per cent of what he wanted – it is possible to portray the Palestinian leader as a terrorist who is not a serious partner in negotiations for a Middle East peace. Arafat is cast as the man who missed his historic opportunity when Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak agreed to give him virtually everything he asked for.

This is the argument of everyone from John Howard to Greg Sheridan, the Australia-Israel and Jewish Affairs Council, The New Republic, The New York Times and The Australian, including its Middle East correspondents. The problem is, it's completely untrue.

First, there were no specific proposals from either Israel (Barak) or the US (Bill Clinton) at Camp David. Just "ideas" or "parameters". The US and Israel had no official position or even sketchy maps. Eventually, maps were published in Israel and by the authoritative Report on Israeli Settlements in the US, largely reconstructed from credible Israeli sources.

All of the maps agreed that the West Bank would be divided into four isolated cantons, separated from the Gaza Strip, its status left vague. Relevant maps can be found in The New Intifada (edited by Roane Carey, Verso, London 2001).

An examination of the maps reveals that Jerusalem is vastly and illegally expanded, and there is a salient from it to the east stretching virtually to Jericho, and including Ma'ale Adumim, a town established mainly by Rabin-Peres-Clinton-Barak to split the West Bank into two. There's another salient to the north, splitting the remaining sections virtually in two.

A small part of East Jerusalem, the centre of Palestinian life and the communications centre for the whole of the West Bank, is basically cut off from all of them. Borders are under Israel's control, as are resources, most importantly water.

ACCORDING to Robert Fisk, Jerusalem was to have remained the "eternal and unified capital of Israel". Arafat would only have received what Madeleine Albright called "a sort of sovereignty" over the Haram al-Sharif mosque area and some Arab streets, while the Palestinian parliament would have been below the city's eastern walls at Abu Dis and renamed Al-Quds.

With the vastly extended and illegal Jerusalem municipality boundaries deep into the West Bank, Jewish settlements such as Ma'ale Adumim were not up for negotiation; nor were several other settlements. Nor was the 16km Israeli military buffer zone around the West Bank, nor the settlers' roads, which would razor through the Palestinian "state" (Fisk in the Independent, April 17). The Jordan Valley was to remain under Israeli control until some future unspecified date.

Discontiguous and encircled cantons, or more accurately bantustans, without borders with any country other than Israel, no agreement to dismantle or even stop illegal Israeli settlements on Arab lands, a refusal to return to the 1967 borders, retention of "Israeli" bypass roads and adjacent lands that intersect the West Bank – and still Arafat failed to see the extraordinary generosity of the offer.

In truth, Arafat was offered about 46 per cent of the 22 per cent of Palestine (the West Bank) that was left. Or, to put it more meaningfully, the Palestinian leader was being "offered" by the occupying government about 12 per cent of the land from which the Palestinians were driven in 1948.

Unsurprisingly, Palestinians resented being told how much of their land Israel was "generously" prepared to return to them. Camp David must have seemed like sitting down with the burglar and the police to be told by both how much of their stolen property they think should be returned. Generous "concessions" indeed.

Scott Burchill is lecturer in international relations at Deakin University in Melbourne.