by Eric Margolis
WASHINGTON -- Last week's supposed cliffhanger negotiations at Camp David
between Israel and the Palestinians remind this old, cynical Mideast hand
of Japan's highly stylized kabuki drama. Lots of yelling, arm-waving and
theatrics, but a predictable outcome. Only the cost of Camp David II
remains unknown. American taxpayers should pray Clinton's last show flops.
The two main issues confronting Israel and Palestine - to use
the name of the new state that will inevitably come into being - are
Jerusalem and Arab refugees. Neither is likely to be resolved at Camp
David II. At best, these two extraordinarily difficult issues will be
finessed, deferred, or paper-over with sham compromises.
Israel vows it will never give back the Old City of Jerusalem, which it
conquered in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. Palestinians, the 1.2
billion-strong Muslim world, the Vatican, Europe, and the UN insist the Old
City return to Muslim-Christian rule as capital of Palestine. Pope John
Paul II reiterated this point over the weekend, calling for the
internationalization of the holy city.
Israel refuses any right of return to Palestinian refugees expelled from
their homes in 1948 and 1967, though it welcomed one million Russians and
still keeps its doors open for new immigrants. The original Palestinian
refugees and their descendants now total nearly 4 million. Israel says it
will never force 140,000 Jewish settlers on the West Bank, Gaza, and Golan
End of story? Not necessarily. The president of the United States has the
power to break this impasse. In 1956, Israel, in collusion with France and
Britain, invaded Egypt and seized Sinai. When Israel refused to withdraw
at war's end, President Dwight Eisenhower and Secretary of State John
Foster Dulles ordered Israel to vacate Sinai or face cut-off of all US aid
and an end to the tax-deductible status of contributions to Israel. Israel
What the Palestinians and Jews needs right now is a strong, courageous
American president who will force Israel into the necessary concession it
cannot now make: granting some form of tangible and/or shared sovereignty
over the Old City to Palestinian Muslims and Christians.
Without a fair deal over Jerusalem, and at least some Palestinian refugees
returned to Israel, there will be no permanent Mideast peace. Israel's
embattled PM Ehud Barak may want to do just this, but his coalition is near
collapse. Israel's powerful right, backed by hard-line Zionists in the US
and Britain, refuses to concede an inch and is busy undermining Barak with
hysterical and preposterous claims that Israel's very existence is in
He who pays the piper should call the tune. Israel has received $100
billion in aid from the US since 1948. Every year, US taxpayers give
Israel $5 billion in open and hidden aid. Egypt is paid $2 billion annually
not to confront Israel. Half of all US foreign aid goes to Israel and
Egypt. Israel's military is dependant on US equipment and technology. Only
the oft-used US veto prevents Israel from facing UN sanctions over its
refusal to withdraw form the West Bank and the Old City.
Now should be the time for Washington to press Israel to accept a deal that
would be good for Jews, Arabs and US Mideast interests. Instead, what we
have is a flabby Bill Clinton who is thinking more about November
elections, Democratic campaign financing, and his next career move to
Hollywood than America's strategic position.
There will be no real pressure on Israel to compromise. Every senior
position in the State Department and National Security Council responsible
for Mideast policy has been filled with strong American supporters of
Israel who are virtually part of Israel's political establishment.
The three senior American diplomats at Camp David II have all been involved
with the US Israel lobby; two were Israeli residents.
It's as if the entire US delegation at American-brokered talks on northern
Ireland were militant Catholic-Americans and IRA backers. The powerful
Israel lobby has warned Congress, `no pressure on Israel.' Politicians
recall that President George Bush's attempts to press Israel into halting
settlements brought charges of `anti-semitism' that contributed to his
failure to get re-elected and to Clinton's upset victory.
The only `pressure' the US will exert is offering Israel more money. Camp
David I has cost US taxpayers $160 billion - the price of nine complete
aircraft carrier battle groups. The recent, never fully implemented Wye
River agreements engineered by Clinton cost taxpayers nearly $2 billion.
Israel is reportedly asking Washington for US $15-27 billion to relocate
military facilities from the occupied territories, and another $30-40
billion to make its armed forces as technologically advanced as those of
the US, including full integration into US space and intelligence systems.
Plus another $2 billion more for missile defense on top of $1.5 billion
already received from the US.
The US and Europe provide Palestine's entire $360 million annual budget.
Yasser Arafat now seeks $40 billion compensation - not from Israel, but the
US!- for the nearly 4 million Palestinian refugees and their confiscated
property. Even if allocated, much of this money would likely end up in the
pockets of PLO bigwigs, not the refugees.
In short, American taxpayers are being asked to again massively bribe their
squabbling clients into pretending to cooperate. Camp David II could end
up costing $100 billion - just for openers. Those crafty Mideasterners
certainly know how to shake down Uncle Sam in an election year.
[Eric Margolis is a syndicated foreign affairs columnist and broadcaster, and
author of the just released War at the Top of
the World - The Struggle for Afghanistan, Kashmir, and Tibet which was reviewed in
The Economist, May 13, 2000]
Copyright © 2000 Eric Margolis - All Rights