Release Date: July 23, 2000
Eric Margolis, c/o Editorial Department, The Toronto Sun
333 King St. East, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M5A 3X5
Fax: (416) 960-4803 -- Press Contact: Eric Margolis

Camp David II: World's Most Expensive Kabuki Show

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 to leave.

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 vacated Sinai.

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 peril.

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 Reserved
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