The last really positive development towards a just peace in the Middle East came in 1978 when, following Egyptian President Anwar El Sadat‘s unprecedented visit to Israel, he and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin began secret negotiations at Camp David. These talks led directly to the 1979 Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty. (aka the Camp David Accords). As a result Sadat and Begin shared 1978 Nobel Peace Prize. As part of the Accords, the two also drew up a Framework for Peace in the Middle East, which dealt inadequately but generally fairly with the Palestinian question, but was written without participation of the Palestinian leadership of the time, had little impact and was condemned by the United Nations.
But this was a far more hopeful and potentially fruitful moment for peace in the Middle East than the 1993 Oslo Accords, or the second – abortive – Camp David negotiations of 2000.
However, according to an article in today’s Guardian, had Yasser Arafat been willing to defy his closest aides and the Syrians who then controlled Lebanon, he would have accepted Sadat’s invitation to join the 1978 talks and, indeed, “welcomed” them. The authors of the piece, Hussein Agha and Ahmad Samih Khalidi know what they’re talking about: Khalidi is a former Palestinian negotiator who was part of Arafat’s team at the time.
How different the last thirty years or so of the tragic history of the Israel/Palestine conflict might have been if only Arafat had had the courage of his own personal convictions at the time.
The crucial passage is this:
His style of leadership was consensual. He was conscious of the need to maintain support among the broader leadership of Palestinians and their institutions. He cultivated and heeded the opinions of his associates, and often gave way to their demands, sometimes using their objections as a foil to avoid difficult decisions. He never moved too far without the support of those he felt were important in lending political legitimacy to his stance. He would have welcomed Anwar Sadat’s 1977 trip to Jerusalem and the ensuing Camp David political process had he been free to decide on his own. In a room packed with most of the Palestinian leadership and senior cadres at which the Sadat initiative was being discussed and volubly denounced, Arafat sat with eyes half-shut, pretending to show no interest, until one of the present authors was asked his opinion. When he suggested that anything that would free Arab land from occupation without bloodshed would be in the national interest and proposed that the Palestinian leader should join the Egyptian-Israeli meeting at Mina House, as invited by Sadat, Arafat’s eyes popped open and he nodded in vigorous assent. But his close aides rejected any such notion and he had to go along with the prevailing mood. After the meeting was over, Arafat took the author aside, saying that while he was convinced of what he had said, the Syrians – then in control in Lebanon – would never allow it, and made a cut‑throat gesture with his hand.
Read the entire fascinating article here.