In July 2000, then-US President Bill Clinton arranged a summit meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian Authority (PA) Chairman Yasser Arafat. The summit was held five years after the signing of the second Oslo Accord, which stated that by that time, a final settlement for the Israel-Palestine conflict was to be reached. Amidst the failure to achieve that, and to solve any of the “final status” issues, this summit was held. It ended, however, without an agreement, with deeply contested and politicised narratives on who was to blame, and where responsibility lay.1 The failures which occurred at Camp David are not separate from the flaws which have characterised the Oslo process and the negotiations process more broadly which has followed.
There were four key issues at Camp David, the same as those outlined to be solved at Oslo: settlements, borders, Jerusalem and refugees. The major discrepancies in interpretations of what happened, and claims of responsibility thereof, revolve around conflations between Israeli demands and those of international law, with the former exceeding the latter. This has led to an interpretation amongst many that Israel made all of the concessions and that the Palestinians were the intransigent party. In reality, Barak’s “red lines” included a refusal to return fully to the pre-June 1967 borders, Israeli sovereignty over East Jerusalem, and annexation of strategically important and geographically significant portions of the West Bank, amongst others. The Palestinians, on the other hand, were in fact willing to make concessions on all major issues, until it became clear that the proposals would not lead to a viable, autonomous Palestinian state, because of extensive territorial fragmentation and a lack of sovereignty. Concessions included accepting the notion of Israeli annexation of West Bank territory to accommodate settlement blocs, and accepting the principle of Israeli sovereignty over the Jewish neighbourhoods of East Jerusalem.2
Fundamentally, once again the imbalance in power between the parties, and the failure of the US to consider this in its ostensible role as mediator, was the core dynamic underlining the talks and rendering them a failure.