"The Truth About Camp David"
Jude Wanniski
November 22, 2004


Memo To: Website Fans, Browsers, Clients
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Why Did They Collapse?

Those of you who have been following my commentaries on the Middle East know I have been a critic of those who have argued Israel offered Yasir Arafat a terrific deal at the Camp David talks in 2000, and that he walked away from it. President Clinton himself is one of the main culprits, spreading the word that Arafat was to blame for the collapse of the talks... which of course leads to the idea spread by the Likud leadership in Tel Aviv that Arafat was never really interested in resolving the matter.

Earlier this month, I posted a memo entitled "Yasir Arafat, a True Peacemaker," which countered that conventional wisdom. Kathleen Hays, the host of CNNfn's "The Flipside" show saw my memo and decided to open up that discussion, interviewing a young man named "Clayton Swisher" who has just published a book, "The Truth About Camp David." She called to tell me she had no idea what he would say, but it turned out he had come to the same conclusion I had. That was nice to hear, so I asked for a transcript, which I now present here in full. It was so interesting that I called Mr. Swisher and decided to read his book to get further details. When I do, you can expect a follow-up "memo on the margin." From what he told me on the telephone, we have another example of a free-lancer getting so interested in a topic of the greatest importance that he decided to track down the participants at Camp David and piece the story together himself. Where was the major media? Getting spoonfed the story that became conventional wisdom.

CNNfn - The Flipside, Nov. 12, 2004

Many questioned if more could have been accomplished in the Mideast peace process during Arafat's life. At one point in 2000, the Palestinian and Israeli sides seemed closer than ever for an agreement. We'll take a closer look at those talks at Camp David and ask the question, why did they collapse?

Let's ask that question of Clayton Swisher, the author of "The Truth About Camp David: The Untold Story About The Collapse of the Middle East Peace Process." He joins us from Washington.

And Clay, we welcome you back to the show. You joined us on a beeper yesterday as we were watching Yasser Arafat's body going to Egypt. The proceedings there. You, of course, watching from Washington.

Tell us about, first of all, how you came to write this book. What you got -- what got you so fascinated in a story that basically had been up to then, Yasser Arafat blew it. He walked away from a chance to get just about everything that the Palestinians wanted at Camp David. And for years, now that's been the legacy.

CLAYTON SWISHER, "THE TRUTH ABOUT CAMP DAVID": Well, that's certainly is the common perception. And it's certainly a view I shared. And I'll say we're all products of our information. At the time of Camp David, indeed, from the 1999 to 2002 period, I was a special agent with the U.S. State Department.

And part of my responsibilities was guarding and visiting VIPs, including Arab and Israeli dignitaries, Yasser Arafat among them. And our secretary of State who at the time was Secretary Albright. And I was at the Camp David summit, and it sort of planted a seed of interest. I had studied Arabic and (INAUDIBLE) when I was an undergrad at college. But it was completely unrelated to my role as in law enforcement as a special agent.

But I went back to grad school at Georgetown University. And I studies under two distinguished Israeli professors. And among the topics we discussed was the missed opportunity for peace at Camp David. And at that point, as I said, I was believing this commonly-adopted mantra that everything was Arafat's fault.

And it wasn't until after the September 11 attacks, when I was on a task force up in New York City, helping out with what we thought was going to be a recovery effort, that I had a long time to sort of sit and stew on my studies at Georgetown University. And the central question I kept asking myself, among them, why do they hate us, was, how could this friction point between the United States and the Arab and Muslim world have been removed under this process that I had, for whatever reason, been a witness to, even as my advantage, the proverbial fly on the wall.

RAMBERG: Well, Clayton, tell us, then, what your perspective is, because there is a general feeling amongst a lot of people out there that Arafat was maybe moving towards peace in the Middle East and then just couldn't take the final step.

SWISHER: It doesn't comport with the facts. And what I did in "The Truth About Camp David," in my book, was a two-year process of very detailed personal interviews for the top Israeli and Palestinian and American negotiators who were at the summit, who were involved in this time. What we've seen since the Clinton administration has been a very solid phalanx of outspoken advisors who continue to lay all the blame at the doorstep of the Arabs, while glossing over the very serious mistakes that the Americans and the Israelis made.

This was so detrimental to global security, to U.S. national security interest, indeed to the safety and wellbeing of Israelis and Palestinians. This is what fed the no-partner-for-peace theory that the Bush administration, despite not believing a word the Clinton administration had to say on anything, hardily adopted and used as an excuse, as a reason to not get involved in negotiations.

So Camp David, the proximate origins of blame and disengagements - in fact, Sharon's unilateral disengagement plans for Gaza all have their origin in President Clinton's decision to renege on his commitment to Arafat and the decision to levy a very one-sided account of why the Camp David 2000 summit did not result in accord.

ELAM: Clay, can you make it clearer to us how exactly the Clinton administration dropped the ball? Like what specifically should they have done?

SWISHER: Absolutely. Well, in the first Camp David summit in 1978, between Israelis and Egyptians, you had a very methodical and structured process that was right when the parties had arrived, but also, it was a structure of drafting. And the drafting process broke down on the third day of the Camp David 2000 summit.

Clinton had left to go to a fund-raiser that evening, and he left the enormous burden of preparing these drafts between Israelis and Palestinians to his staffers. And Dennis Ross who, at the time, was our Mideast envoy, made a very controversial change in his own pen to an American proposal, after Ehud Barak had basically bullied him into doing so.

When Yasser Arafat saw this change, it so convinced him that this was an U.S./Israeli collusion effort and not a summit where we were going to have a partial, honest brokerage, that the drafting process collapsed. The Israelis I interviewed were very critical of the Clinton administration's handling of this. They say that it was such a mistake, the sloppy handling of the drafting process, the poor mismanagement, the internal tensions between Secretary Albright and Sandi Berger. These were very - this was everyone's legacy. Everyone was sort of dog fighting for the president's ear.

As a result, this just - it bred a very confusing atmosphere, and it didn't produce, at the end, as was seen in the Israeli/Egyptian agreement, a document for Arafat to accept, sign or reject. There was no deal at Camp David, according to the people I interviewed.

HAYS: Now - and there are so many details in your book. I think we can't get into all of them, but that's certainly a clear example of one of the ways this broke down. But let's take it to the next step then.

SWISHER: Certainly.

HAYS: . because, quite apart from the Camp David process, there are many people who feel that Yasser Arafat really was part of the problem, that he did not really renounce terrorism, and many, many things, many allegations against him that he was a big part problem. Certainly, that's what the Israelis say and, as you said, why President Bush went along with the idea of not negotiating with him. Is that - is there any truth to that part of the argument about Yasser Arafat?

SWISHER: I don't think it comports with the facts. This is - Yasser Arafat was many things, corrupt, a terrible manager of bureaucracy, certainly, but there's no denying that, in 1988, he agreed to accept a Resolution 242 and for a Palestinian state to live side by side with Israel, the state of Israeli being in the pre-'67 borders.

Now, there's never been a reciprocal gesture by the government of Israel. They never, despite Arafat's first move, said we agree to a Palestinian state. In fact, no administration - to give Bush credit, he was the first, President Bush, Jr., the first to do that.

So Arafat was very flexible in a number of ways. This is according to Mohammed Dahlan, who - the head of security services, who America considers very pliant. But Dahlan told me that you will not find a more flexible leader than you had in Arafat.

This is going to be a very interesting time, because, if we're hoping that we're going to see a less flexible, on the core issues, leader than Arafat was, it's important to remember that every Palestinian who was at Camp David rejected it, including Abu Mazen and Abu Ala. We are not going to see the installation of Ahmed Chalabi-type figure, which we hope for in Iraq, who's going to do our bidding. On the core issues, they're in unanimous agreement that international law must prevail.

RAMBERG: Clay, there have been accusations against the Israelis and the Americans that they used Arafat as an impediment, they used him basically as an excuse to stop the peace process. If, in fact, there is any truth to that, what happens now in a post-Arafat era?

SWISHER: Well, there is truth to it. Look at the statistics. OK, since the outbreak of the Intefadeh, we've had almost 1,100 Israelis killed. We've had almost 3,300 Palestinians dead, untold harm by the rising anti- American sentiment in the region that is fueled by the Arab-Israeli conflict in what we are seeing as Israel's proxy supporter of the occupation.

Whether we agree with it or not, this is fueling the global jihad - a global jihadist insurgency against the United States that could take to the streets here in another September 11. We have to have a determined effort on this administration where they would rather see our diplomats with hand cuts - with paper cuts than our soldiers bleed in far away places. There has to be a recognition that this is in the U.S. national security interest and that it is important now to confront this diplomatically.

ELAM: Clay, let me just ask you briefly about this, because, obviously now, this new question of what's going to happen with the Middle East peace process, now that somebody will be replacing, you've got the Bush administration who would not negotiate with Arafat, but now they're looking, obviously, to see what they can do about getting Palestine and Israel to stop all of the war here. Now, what happens, though, in this situation? Isn't President Bush sort of in the same position that President Clinton was in?

SWISHER: Well, because President Bush adopted this no-partner-for-peace theory that President Clinton's administration just hammered home over and over again wrong, there's going to be an interesting dynamic now. Will it be no partner for peace, or will it be no partner for willing to accept Ariel Sharon's rump state for peace? Will it be no credible partner for peace? Will it be no empowered partner for peace?

The Palestinians are going to go through a very strained period right now of trying to reorganize a line of succession that has both street-level credibility and the command of the security services. This is going to take sometime.

Also, it's very important that Israel ease its closures and restrictions on the Palestinians so they can have free and fair elections. A lot of this, we have to remember, depends on Israel, which is the occupying power. There's now been a wall that's been erected around the Palestinians. They're starving their economic life and their ability to freedom of movement and goods and people, and so there has to be a U.S.-determined effort, which I understand the Europeans are pressing for now, very hard, to enable a Palestinian leadership to emerge that it can deal with. But the first has to be a will on our behalf. There has to be an American partner for peace.

HAYS: Clayton Swisher, thank you for joining us, a fascinating discussion. You obviously have many facts and figures at your disposal and a passionate view of this. Let's give the name of the book again, in case one of our viewers wants to look deeper into this. "The Truth About Camp David, the Untold Story About the Collapse of the Middle East Peace Process" - Clayton Swisher, thanks so much.

SWISHER: Thank you for having me.