Camp David, 11 July 2000 – Israeli and Palestinian delegations meet to hold peace talks under American sponsorship. Israeli Prime Minsiter, Ehud Barak, tells US President, Bill Clinton, his starting position: Jerusalem would never be shared. Palestinian Chairman, Yasser Arafat, demands half Jerusalem as his capital and Palestinian sovereignty over what the Muslims know as the Haram al-Sharif, which is the Jews’ Temple Mount.
The Americans draft an agreement and first present it to Barak. The draft appears to allow the Palestinians also to have their capital in Jerusalem. Barak angrily rejects it, so an amendment is added to the agreement, to take account of Israel’s position. Then the paper is presented to Arafat. He notices the amended paragraph which adresses the subject of sovereignty over Jerusalem, and he too angrily rejects the paper, stating that the most important thing for him is Jerusalem and the Haram al-Sharif (Temple Mount).
The Americans try to bridge tha gap, but for a whole week every American effort is rejected by one side or the other and Barak, who had made all the running for this summit, now refuses pointblank to negotiate directly with Arafat.
President Clinton, who is due to leave for the G8 summit in Japan the next day, finally confronts Ehud Barak and tells him that he has got to make a better offer. Barak consults his negotiating team and they all agree that some sacrifice over Jerusalem must be made in order to avoid an eruption of violence. Barak, however, is well aware that to do so could be political suicide. They argue all day long while Clinton waits and waits and getting more and more angry. Late at night, Barak arrives at Clinton’s cabin with his offer: a couple of Palestinian villages on the outskirts of Jerusalem could become their capital. He stresses the point that no Israeli Prime Minister would ever give up sovereignty over Temple Mount. President Clinton explodes and very angrily says to Barak, ‘You made me wait here for thirteen hours and you come back with this? You go say it to Arafat if you want to. Don’t ask me to do it. I’m not going to do that. You dragged me to Geneva for a summit with Assad. I was your puppet! And then you backed off! I will not let it happen here again. You got to go further, you got to be able to see enough in your proposal to believe that if they give and you give and they give and you give they’ll get some place they can live with. You’ve got to do better. You have got to do better.’
Barak goes back to his cabin. Then, he decides to break a taboo and makes a huge concession. When he returns to Clinton, he says, ‘I am willing for you to propose to Arafat that we divide the Old City between us.’
Barak says to Clinton that he is willing to offer the Palestinians East Jerusalem as a capital and sovereignty over the Muslim and the Christian quarters in the Old City. Barak argues that if Arafat does not accept this offer, it would prove that he is using terrorism not just as a tactic in negotiations but as a way of life. He then asks Clinton to present his proposal to the Palestinian leader as an American idea.
President Clinton calls Arafat to his cabin and presents him the deal. But one part of the package is totally rejected by Arafat. When it comes to Haram al-Sharif (Temple Mount), the holy place in the Old City that matters most to Arafat, Barak still insists that Israel retain sovereignty here. Arafat would get only custodianship. Now Arafat is under pressure. Clinton reprimands him for not moving an inch from his starting position. He tells him that if he turns down the offer, he would lose the relationship with the United States and everything would be off the table. Arafat has to be in defense. He takes the President’s hand and says, ‘You’re my only friend, I can’t afford to lose you.’ He then returns to his cabin to consult with his team. Arafat is of the opinion that he cannot be flexible in regards to Arabic and Muslim issues, otherwise he would be assassinated, and stresses that the main issue is the Holy City places.
Arafat’s answer to Clinton is that he cannot betray Jerusalem, which means ‘No.’ President Clinton delays his departure for Japan to talk Arafat round, in vain. But then he tries a calculated fudge on Barak. He relays to Barak his conversation with Arafat, exaggerating what Arafat had said, and then he leaves for Okinawa for the G8 Summit. The Israeli and Palestinian delegations stay behind in Camp David. Barak, as a result of what Clinton told him, is under the impression that Arafat had actually agreed to negotiate on the basis his offer. Arafat, on the other hand, is left with the impression that negotiations would continue without reference to what had been put on the table.
The next morning Barak finds out that Arafat hadn’t agreed to his terms at all and he is very angry. He refuses to meet Arafat one on one.
When Clinton returns to Camp David, he finds that both sides still cling to their positions: Barak would not yield the sovereignty over Temple Mount or Haram and Arafat wouldn’t accept the settlement without it.
On 26 July 2000, Arafat returns to Gaza as a hero. He had not given in on East Jerusalem and the Haram. But due to the failure of the peace talks in Camp David, the Palestinians remain under Israeli Occupation and a renewal of violence seems inevitable.
When Ehud Barak returns to Israel, he has to deal with a formidable opponent, opposition leader, Ariel Sharon. Sharon sets out to drive Barak from office for bargaining over Temple Mount. He says in a television interview: ‘One man, the Prime Minister, without discussing the issue with the inner cabinet, without bringing it to the government, without bringing it to the Knesset, without asking anyone of the Jewish leaders around the world, decided to hand over the holiest place of the Jewish people. That is something that no one can understand.’
To make his point that Temple Mount belongs to the Jews, Ariel Sharon says he would take a public walk on Haram al-Sharif, around two of Islam’s holiest mosques.
Ehud Barak: “Sharon wanted to show to the citizens of Israel that contrary to Barak, who, according to rumors that he tried to spread, gave away Temple Mount, he is the defender of our rights. Now, how is he going to show that? He could only exercise the legal right that everybody has to tour the Temple Mount. And therefore, as far as I was concerned, I had no special interest to seem as someone who stops him from making this political protest against me.”
On 25 September 2000, Ehud Barak finally agrees to a face-to-face meeting with Arafat. A dinner is arranged at Barak’s home. During this meeting, Barak and Arafat talk one on one and afterwards inform their negotiating teams that they can overcome the remaining obstacles to peace and sign an agreement within a week. Before he leaves, Arafat pleads with Barak to stop Sharon from coming to Haram al-Sharim (Temple Mount). He tells Barak that if Sharon visits there, it might destroy everything and Sharon would be the only person laughing in the months to come. Barak says there’s nothing he can do about it, because anyone can visit Temple Mount, including Israeli MPs.
On 28 September 2000, just after dawn, Sharon enters the mosque enclave above Temple Mount. With him comes hundreds of police and security stuff.
During the visit, Ariel Sharon says to the press: “I came here with a message of peace. I believe that we can live together with the Palestinians. I came here to the holiest place of the Jewish people in order to see what happens here.”
Following Sharon’s arrival at the holy place, a crowd of outraged Palestinians rushes to his security cordon and tries to stone him, but his bodyguards surround him and keep the attackers off. The Palestinians crowd starts shouting at Sharon, telling him to quit this provocation and and get out of the holy al-Aqsa mosque.
Ariel Sharon: “We didn’t do any damage there, and that was not my intention. I was just visiting Temple Mount, the holiest place for Jews.”
The next day, after Friday prayers, Israeli police fires on Palestinian protesters, killing seven. With these casualties begins the most violent phase yet of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the al-Aqsa intifada. As the violent spreads across the occupied territories it looks as though the peace process is doomed.
On October 3, 2000 Ariel Sharon publishes the following article to explain the purpose of his visit to the Temple Mount:
Jewish rights on the Temple Mount
By Ariel Sharon (Jerusalem Post 10/03/00)
“We have ample evidence today that the violent riots and armed confrontations with Israeli police and soldiers which broke out last Thursday on the Temple Mount during my visit there was part of a premeditated campaign organized and initiated by the Palestinian Authority.
The PA used its security force, which has been operating illegally in Jerusalem, in violation of the Oslo Accords, to conduct this campaign.
Palestinian Preventive Security Service chief Col. Jibril Rajoub , the General Intelligence Apparatus in the West Bank under Brig.-Gen. Tawfik Tirawi, and the Tanzim – Palestinian Chairman Arafat’s Fatah armed militia – all were involved in the planning, initiation, and execution of the violent riots, including the instigation of armed attacks and the use of explosives on soldiers and civilians in the Netzarim area several days before my visit to the Temple Mount.
Deliberate and provocative incitement by Israeli Arab Knesset members, calling on Palestinians and Arab Israelis to confront Israeli police and soldiers in the battle for the Temple Mount was part of this carefully orchestrated operation to ignite riots in large-scale violence in Judea, Samaria, Gaza, and Israel proper among its Arab Israeli citizens.
These regrettable and ominous developments have been termed the inevitable “Palestinian War of Independence.”
But there is more to these developments than just the question of who will have control over the Temple Mount. What we are witnessing these days is not just a Palestinian war of independence, it is a struggle over the shape and future of Israel as a state. This struggle’s outcome will determine the extent to which Israel can maintain its Jewish and democratic character as defined by the Declaration of Independence amidst those who wish it to be something else: definitely not a Jewish state, and probably not a true democracy capable of defending the rights and liberties of its citizens, Jews and Arabs alike.
I visited the Temple Mount with members of the Likud faction in the Knesset, as I have done many times before, to inspect and ascertain that freedom of worship and free access to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, which is sovereign Israeli territory, is ensured to everyone: Christians, Moslems, and Jews in particular, since it is and has been for over 3,000 years the site of our holiest shrine.
Ever since the reunification of Jerusalem in 1967, Israel has made careful arrangements to ensure freedom of worship and free access to the site for Moslems, Christians, and Jews alike. Historically, however, it should be noted that only under Israeli rule was that for everyone, including Jews. The Waqf is attempting to deliberately destroy all archaeological evidence of Jewish claims to this holy site, while using terror and intimidation to impose their exclusive claim to the site.
Proof of the PA’s systematic campaign and premeditated efforts to take control of the Temple Mount were publicly presented by Israeli Police inspector-general and other security officials following my visit; the evidence has been documented.
As for myself, despite the recent violent events, I remain fully committed to achieving peace with all our Arab neighbors, including the Palestinians. I believe that we can live together with Palestinians, but not when systematic anti-Jewish, anti-Israel incitement instigated by the PA and its leaders to official media sources continues unabated, as became evident in the past few days.
When Palestinian policemen open fire on civilians, it is difficult to imagine future conciliation. This spread of violence, terror, and incitement will only place the full consequences of these actions on the shoulders of the Palestinian leadership as well as the leaders of the Arab Israeli community. If they continue down this path, they will be leading them astray, rather than giving them the hope of real peace.
Finally, in order to achieve true conciliation, the Palestinians must recognize the historical right of the Jews to their capital, and particularly to the Temple Mount. Freedom of access and religious worship would never be denied to Americans, Europeans, or Arabs in their own respective capitals and countries. It should never be denied to Jews in their one, eternal capital.
Peace is still at hand, but only with an undivided Jerusalem under full Israeli sovereignty.”
President Clinton now makes a final attempt to rescue the peace process before he leaves the White House.
Madeleine Albright, US Secretary of State, summons Prime Minister Barak and Chairman Arafat to Paris (where she is sheculed to have some meetings with the French Foreign Minister Vedrine) to discuss a cease fire. But the venue is problematic, since the French President, Jacques Chirac, openly expresses his opinion that the new intifada had started because of Ariel Sharon’s irresponsible provocation at the holy site of the mosques.
On 4 October 2000 Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat arrives in Paris, and his first call is on the French President at the Elysee Palace. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak has to follow suit, although the Israelis believe that Chirac sides with the Palestinians.
The summit takes place at the residence of the US Ambassador to France, but from its very early stages the meeting is dominated by an atmosphere of animosity and it is clear that both sides cannot move on. Barak insists that Arafat should instruct his people to stop the attacks. Arafat pretends not to know what Barak is talking about. Mrs. Albright decides to talk to each leader separately. She first talks to Barak. In the meantime Arafat is getting more and more agitated. He’s certain that US Secretary Albright and Barak secretly tries to turn French President Chirac against him. Suddenly he bolts out of the building and rushes to his car. Secreatry Albright runs after him and manages to persuade him to come back in.
Arafat demands that an international commission would investigate who is to blame for latest outbreak of violence. But Barak doesn’t want to internationalize the issue and bring in the UN or anyone else to investigate it.
By eleven that night, it is agreed that the detail of the inquiry would be settled later. Israel and the Palestinians are on the brink of a cease fire agreement that could save Clinton’s peace efforts. And then, all of a sudden, Secretary Albright gets a phone call from President Chirac and he says, ‘I think that, you know, you are in my country, and protocol is very important, and I need to host you and the Prime Minister and President Arafat.’ US Secretary Albright says, ‘Mr. President, this is a very important moment, this is not a really good idea for us to come right now, we’re about to finalize on this document.’
But Chairman Arafat insists that they should go because they were invited by President Chirac, and he is their host.
When they arrive at the Elysee, Secretary Albright discovers that instead of the social occasion she was expecting, Chirac had had a table set up for a formal conference, including the UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, who’d been summoned from dinner with the French Foreign Minister.
In this meeting, Arafat demands again a commission of inquiry, although it’s a deal-breaker. Barak refuses outright. President Chirac holds the EU presidency at that time and speaks about the inquiry, but not as a deal-breaker. Secretary Albright is very angry with Chirac and she gives him a dirty look and tells him, ‘I’m sorry, Mr. President, we’ve already dealt with the inquiry. I’m telling you that there’s already an agreed upon document.’
At the end of the meeting, Arafat, instead of returning to the talks, sets off for his hotel. Secretary Albright is shocked and tells him, ‘You promised me, you promised me that you were going to stay.’ But Chairman Arafat leaves behind his Foreign Minister, and so escapes the attempt to pen him down into a cease fire agreement without a full blown inquiry. The intifada continues.