The U.S. Role in the Breakdown of the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process

In the time since the collapse of the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks at Camp David in the summer of 2000 and the subsequent Palestinian uprising, details have emerged that challenge the Clinton administration’s insistence—reiterated by leaders of both the Democratic and Republican parties as well as by much of the mainstream media—that the Palestinians were responsible for the failure to reach a peace agreement and for much of the violence that has engulfed Israel and Palestine since then.

If such a perception were true, then the ongoing U.S. diplomatic, financial, and military support for Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip and the resulting human rights violations could be justified as a response both to the Palestinian refusal to accept reasonable Israeli offers and to the Palestinians’ subsequent use of violence to force further Israeli concessions. The reality, however, is far more complex. Both the Clinton and Bush administrations, along with leading members of Congress of both parties, have deliberately misrepresented what happened in the peace process before, during, and after Camp David, as well as what has transpired since the outbreak of the second intifada in late September 2000. This has served to justify a policy of supporting an increasingly repressive occupation army, something that would otherwise be unpalatable to the American public.

The Palestinians do bear some responsibility for the tragic turn of events. There was not effective communication between Arafat and some of his negotiators, which led to some confusion during the peace talks. Arafat’s corrupt, inept, and authoritarian rule has alienated broad swaths of Palestinian public opinion, making it difficult for him to control much of his population. Similarly, the Palestinian Authority failed to create the sociopolitical base necessary to promote a viable sovereign entity. Arafat refused to disarm Fatah’s Tanzim militia, which is now largely beyond his control and has engaged in a number of armed confrontations with Israelis in the occupied territories. Segments of the Palestinian Authority and some of the Palestinian media have encouraged violence not just against Israeli occupation forces but against Israeli settlers as well. The Palestinian Authority has not cracked down sufficiently on armed elements of radical Islamic opposition groups that have engaged in terrorist attacks inside Israel, resulting in the deaths of scores of innocent Israeli civilians. Worse, other elements of Fatah—possibly with Arafat’s backing—have more recently joined in organizing suicide bombings and other terrorist attacks. In addition, the Palestinians have not emphasized sufficiently that the intifada is focused solely upon the ongoing Israeli occupation of lands seized in the 1967 war and is not an attack on the legitimacy of Israel itself.

However, a careful examination of the events appears to indicate that the primary fault for the failure of the peace process and the subsequent violence lies squarely with the occupying power—Israel—and its patron—the United States. This is particularly important to understand in light of the September 11 terrorist attacks on U.S. targets, as questions are being raised about the popular anger against the U.S. generated in the Arab and Islamic world. Although very few Arabs or Muslims support terrorism, Washington’s support for the Israeli occupation has been one of the key issues provoking growing resentment over the U.S. role in the Middle East. Many Americans are under the mistaken belief that Washington has tried to play the role of an even-handed mediator and are perplexed as to why so many people in the region see the U.S. role otherwise.