Camp David II: Clinton Should Pressure Israel, As Carter Did

It is highly unlikely that the upcoming summit between the United States, Israel, and Palestine at Camp David will the kind of positive results that came from the 1978 summit between the United States, Israel, and Egypt. At the earlier Camp David gathering, President Jimmy Carter was willing to pressure Israel to withdraw from all Egyptian territory seized in the 1967 war in accordance with UN Security Council resolutions 242 and 338. President Bill Clinton, in contrast, has not supported total Israeli withdrawal from Palestinian lands seized in 1967, and he has actually pressured the Palestinians to allow the Israelis to maintain control of large amounts of their land, including Arab East Jerusalem, the historic capital of Palestine.

Reversing the positions of previous administrations, the Clinton administration has insisted that the Israeli-occupied sections of the West Bank and Gaza be referred to as “disputed territories” rather than “occupied territories”—implying that both the indigenous population and the occupying power both have legitimate claims to the land. In a series of statements, the Clinton administration has also tacitly accepted Israel’s annexation of greater East Jerusalem—an annexation that the UN Security Council (with the Carter administration’s support) labeled “null and void.”

Carter also insisted that Israel withdraw from its illegal settlements within Egypt, whereas Clinton has been pressuring the Palestinians to accept Israeli colonies inside their territories as sovereign Israeli territory.

The failure of the United States to apply any real pressure on Israel to compromise is key, because now there is less support within Israel for a total withdrawal from occupied Palestinian territories today than there was for total withdrawal from Egyptian territories in the late 1970s. In Israel, there is a peace bloc, which—for moral or pragmatic reasons—supports a total withdrawal. There is also a right wing, which—for religious or strategic reasons—supports holding on to Palestinian lands. The majority of Israelis are in between, leaning towards the right if they think Israel can get away with holding on to more territory, but leaning in a more moderate direction if they believe U.S.-Israeli relations will be harmed. President Clinton, however, has made clear that the U.S. will never put pressure on Israel to compromise, thereby giving Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak very little room to maneuver to counter the powerful right-wing opposition should he be willing to support a total withdrawal.

It is possible that Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat—whose corrupt and autocratic regime is increasingly dependent on U.S. aid for its survival—will be forced to capitulate and an agreement will be signed. However, the vast majority of Palestinians—both Muslim and Christian, left and right—will not accept any settlement that does not uphold their rights under international law. The result, even with a signed document, will likely be ongoing instability and bloodshed.