For Palestinians, the Camp David Peace Treaty, signed between Egypt and Israel in March 26, 1979, under American sponsorship, equaled a catastrophe.
Israel’s aim was to keep Egypt away from the focal conflict in the Middle East, the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land. It did so successfully. Not only was Egypt out of the picture, but also the seemingly united Arab front collapsed thereafter. Egypt received harsh flak from its Arab neighbors and lost its leading role among Arab nations.
Israel was the ultimate beneficiary. Then Prime Minister Menachim Begin, refused any proposition of a realistic negotiation framework that could resolve the Palestinian conflict. On the other hand, the United States signed a separate agreement with Israel: the Israel-US Memorandum. The agreement provided American guarantees to Israel, lest Egypt violated the peace treaty. It also designated a generous annual military and economic aid package, to help Israel cope with the cost of peace.
The question of Palestine was then put on the back burner, but not completely. Instead, Israel had an awesome chance to concentrate on suppressing the rebellious Palestinians, while trying to create an alternative leadership to negotiate peace based on Israeli terms. As Israel managed to breath easier, since the war of attrition in Egypt was officially over, a bloody campaign was waged against Lebanon, with the aim of altering the political structure of the tiny country, while driving Syria out of Lebanon, but foremost, annihilating the Palestinian resistance.
Israel’s gamble led to the invasion of Lebanon, in the summer of 1982, which culminated to the massacre of Sabra and Shatilla. The estimates on Lebanese and Palestinian casualties in Israel’s war varied. But there is an agreement that tens of thousands were killed or wounded. The masterminds of the invasion were the same man who signed the peace treaty with Egypt; Begin, and the rising star of Israel’s politics; Ariel Sharon.
Israel has of course achieved little from its invasion of Lebanon, a lesson that cost Israel hundreds of its finest soldiers. Two decades of senseless occupation reaped nothing but a humiliating withdrawal. Former Israel Prime Minister Ehud Barak, had the courage to admit that the Israeli presence in Lebanon was costly and futile. In an unforgettable night in May 2000, Israeli troops scrambled to escape back to the Israeli northern border as their leadership vowed never to return.
Once again, Israel was allowed to focus on its problem with the Palestinians. Less than two months following the withdrawal from South Lebanon, Israel attempted to force its own conditions on the Palestinian leadership, this time back in Camp David. Despite the intense pressure, practiced by the “honest broker”, a role played by former US President Bill Clinton, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat held his ground. History, written by the US media, often refers to that phase as “Barak’s generous offer”, claiming that Barak offered Palestinians everything they wished for, but they arrogantly refused. Leading Palestinian intellectual, Hanan Ashrawi, repeatedly stated that no written proposal was ever made available to the Palestinians. Even if there was such a proposal, Arafat’s rejection of the division of the West Bank into three cantons, separated by Israeli military zones and bypass roads, the continuous presence of the illegal settlements and the Israeli illegal control of the occupied city of Jerusalem, is nothing less than a sound choice.
Nearly three years have passed since the failure of Camp David II, and nearly as long since the outbreak of the Palestinian uprising. Israel continues to wave two options in the face of Palestinians, either peace on Israel’s turf, or a deadly war that uses every weapon available. Sharon’s painful honesty often helped outline the Israeli peace agenda. He declared the essence of his strategy to the world on March 4, 2002 when he stated: Before peace talks with the Palestinians could resume, “they must first be hit hard.”
On July 02, 2003, Israeli tanks reportedly rolled out of the occupied West Bank town of Bethlehem, opening the stage for a new Israeli maneuver. Considering Israeli official statements that joined the withdrawal, Israel seems to be playing the same old game of marginalizing one enemy to crack down on another. Unlike the Egypt Camp David scenario however, Israel expects the Palestinian Authority (PA) to play the role that Israel has itself played in the bloody crackdown on the Palestinian resistance in Lebanon in 1982.
Of course, Israel is not serious about peace, for if it were, Sharon would have at least agreed to release the aging Palestinian leader Arafat from his battered Ramallah headquarters. Sharon flatly denied such a request just as his Palestinian counterpart, Abu Mazen was enthusiastically engaged in outlining his peace agenda, vowing security and peace for both nations.
Peace for Israel is always a maneuver of some sort. For example, following the 1993 Oslo peace accords, Israel used that temporary calm to double the size of illegal settlements in the Occupied Territories. Yet, ironically, Israel downplayed the Palestinian groups agreement for truce late June 2003, saying that these groups only wish to gain more time to recuperate. A quick look at Israel’s peacemaking strategies, from Camp David I all the way back to Camp David II, Israel is the one who uses peace to intensify its aggressions.
Israel is yet to provide a serious sign that it seeks real peace with the Palestinians. In fact, it has so far provided all the wrong reasons of why peace is the favored choice at this time. It’s a chance to expand the settlements, annihilate the resistance (with the help of the willing segment of the PA) and end the popular Intifada (the single most costly reason behind the Israeli government’s budget deficit.)
Palestinians should therefore be wary of the Israeli motives for peace, not because they have good reasons to mistrust Sharon and his extremist government, but because history is apt to repeat itself, and perhaps even more painfully and costly that ever before.
RAMZY BAROUD is the editor-in-chief of PalestineChronicle.com and the editor of the anthology “Searching Jenin: Eyewitness Accounts of the Israeli Invasion 2002.” 50 percent of the editor’s royalties will go directly to assist in the relief efforts in Jenin. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org