“I’ll back you and protect you, I’m your guy … it’s very upsetting … all the Arabs are the same,” US President Bill Clinton told Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak in a 19 July 2000 meeting during the failed Camp David summit with Palestinian Authority president Yasser Arafat.
Only months earlier, in March 2000, Clinton displayed the same kind of obeisance to Barak — albeit without the racist slur this time — when he explained, “I’ll do my best … I’ve gone through the script … I’ll do a good job.” He said this while he attempted to reassure Barak during another failed summit, this time with then-president of Syria Hafez al-Assad.
That the US government has acted as Israel’s attorney rather than an honest mediator in peace negotiations has been known for some time, ever since the disclosure of a secret 1975 letter from President Gerald Ford to Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.
But these quotations from Ahron Bregman’s Cursed Victory: A History of Israel and the Occupied Territories (2014), which includes the actual “script” agreed upon between Clinton and Barak, make graphically clear the extent of the collusion between the two governments.
Top secret disclosures
Bregman’s book breaks new ground with a number of leaked top secret disclosures from Israeli sources. It shows that the recent revelation that Israel eavesdropped on current US Secretary of State John Kerry is really nothing new.
Israel also secretly recorded conversations between Clinton and Assad back in 2000. The only question unanswered is why, given the extent of the collusion, the Israeli government believed it was necessary to eavesdrop on its counterpart.
Bregman is a British-Israeli political scientist who teaches in the War Studies Department of King’s College London. He served in the Israeli army during the 1982 invasion of Lebanon. But during the first intifada, he openly announced his refusal to serve in the “occupied territories” in an interview with Israeli newspaper Haaretz.
Facing prison for his refusal, he emigrated to the UK where he obtained a doctoral degree, and subsequently began a career as a lecturer and journalist, eventually authoring four other books on Israel.
Bregman believes that Cursed Victory is the first chronological history of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank including East Jerusalem, Gaza, Syria’s Golan Heights, and Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula following the 1967 war. His book differs from other studies which he says take a more thematic or analytical approach to the post-1967 occupation.
Bregman’s perspective is that of a liberal Zionist. He briefly describes the 1947-1948 Nakba — the forced expulsion of Palestinians from their homeland — as a “civil war,” and suggests that Israel emerged as a colonialist country only after the 1967 war, hence the book’s title.
This perspective eventually weakens his concluding chapter and mars his analysis of the failure of Clinton’s Camp David summit. Nevertheless, many Palestinian voices are heard in the course of his chronology, and he rigorously details how Israel implemented the “three main pillars” of its post-1967 occupation through military force, laws and bureaucratic regulations and settlements — in the process, trampling on international law and Palestinians’ human rights.
Bregman’s top secret material appears mostly in the later chapters, which cover the period between 1995 and 2007 when his chronology ends. Many of the documents are not surprising, and their contents could be deduced from both US and Israeli public policy and behavior.
Still, the documentation reinforces what Palestinians have long maintained. We get to read, for example, the actual text of US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright’s reaffirmation of the US pledge to consult first with Israel in peace talks.
In a secret 1998 letter to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Albright promised: “Recognizing the desirability of avoiding putting forward proposals that Israel would consider unsatisfactory, the US will conduct a thorough consultation process with Israel in advance with respect to any ideas the US may wish to offer the parties for their consideration.”
As Bregman notes, this effectively gave “Israel carte blanche to veto any American peace proposals” it didn’t like.
Many Palestinians have long suspected that Israel assassinated Arafat by poisoning him. Bregman’s revelations point to this conclusion as well, although he concedes that the information leaked to him to date does not contain the “smoking gun” proof.
The clearest indication, he writes, is a 15 October 2000 document prepared by the Shabak (or Shin Bet), Israel’s secret service, which describes Arafat “as a serious threat to the security of the state. His disappearance outweighs the benefits of his continuing existence.”
After noting that in 2004, US President George W. Bush appeared to release Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon from an earlier commitment not to harm Arafat, Bregman states that the US government had given Sharon “if not a green light to proceed with the killing, then at least an amber” light.
Ignoring Palestinian response
Bregman’s liberal Zionism is apparent in several instances in this work, including his suggestion that if Israel had used greater force it might have avoided the first intifada in 1987. But the most obvious example is his acceptance of the notion that the so-called Clinton Parameters, outlined after the failure of Camp David, represented the best deal the Palestinians could have hoped to get.
The deal Clinton offered, he says, was Palestinian sovereignty over the Haram al-Sharif (Dome of the Rock), the principal Muslim holy site in Jerusalem, in exchange for giving up even a symbolic right of return for Palestinian refugees.
Whereas throughout most of the book Bregman is conscientious in representing Palestinian viewpoints, here he largely ignores the official response of the Palestinian negotiating team to the Clinton Parameters.
Nor does he suggest that Palestinian negotiators had little reason to trust Clinton after he had already broken two key promises: one, that Clinton would not blame Arafat if the summit failed (which Clinton did), and two, that Israel would continue to withdraw from the occupied West Bank if the summit failed (which Israel did not).
More to the point, Bregman effectively dismisses the Palestinian right of return as a fundamental human right central to their struggle and to a just peace.
The parameters guaranteed little more than limited autonomy for Palestinians in less than 22 percent of historic Palestine, not full state sovereignty, and the Palestinian Authority would have had to depend on Israeli goodwill to withdraw its military presence in the Jordan Valley twelve years from the agreement.
The result is a disappointing concluding chapter in which the author suggests that the post-1967 occupation will eventually end simply because history shows that occupations don’t last.
In his final paragraph, he distinguishes between “good” colonialists (the British) and “bad” colonialists (the Israelis), but his fixation on 1967 means he misses entirely that Israeli settler-colonialism began not in 1967, but in the years leading up to the founding of the state in 1948.
Rod Such is a former editor for World Book and Encarta encyclopedias. He is active with Americans United for Palestinian Human Rights, Jewish Voice for Peace-Portland Chapter and the Seattle Mideast Awareness Campaign.