Camp David: Ten years on for Middle East peace

Ten years after the Camp David summit between the Israelis and Palestinians ended acrimoniously, one of the main architects of the peace plan that emerged from the negotiations is still certain that it presents the only viable solution to the conflict.

Gilad Sher was the head of Prime Minister Ehud Barak's policy co-ordination unit and senior Israeli negotiator at Camp David. Today a successful commercial lawyer, he believes that the main reason for the failure of the talks then, and ever since, is that neither side's leaders tried hard enough to prepare a national consensus around the potential peace agreement.

Although today, the Israeli government and the Palestinian are not even talking to each other directly - conducting "proximity talks" with an American go-between instead - he remains convinced that Camp David is still relevant.

"The legacy of Camp David is a rational and fair end to the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians," he said. "There is no other solution that can fit the Israeli interests of a Jewish state for generations to come in safe and recognized borders, other than a two-state solution with an independent, disarmed Palestinian state, self-sufficient and sovereign in every way, by Israel's side. Such a solution will allow an end to all demands."

Eventually, he says, both sides will accept the plan.

"The questions are always why is the time not ripe, why is the leadership unworthy, where are the necessary forces, why not let time take care of everything.

"These questions keep on recurring exhaustingly and bringing us to the same destructive point.

"In the end we have to face facts that there is no other long-term guarantee for Israel's future."

Mr Sher does accept that conditions at Camp David were far better for reaching an agreement than at any time since. Both parties, he said, had laid the groundwork, Ehud Barak and Yasir Arafat "could have delivered", while Bill Clinton was eager for a legacy as he approached the end of his presidency.

"If you compare it to the successful outcome of the first Camp David summit which ended in the peace agreement between Israel and Egypt, there seemed to be an even better chance here," said Mr Sher.

"There was a much better chemistry between Barak and Arafat than between Begin and Sadat, and Clinton was certainly a more effective mediator than Carter."

Ultimately, he blames both sides for failing to seriously prepare public opinion.

"If there had been a greater feeling that the Israeli and Palestinian nations would be in favour, as they could have been, it would have gone a long way to achieving an agreement. Ehud Barak used to say that 'in the end they will understand, I don't have to explain now'.

"That was wrong, the public has to be a part of the process in order to create legitimacy."

He does not accept that Mr Arafat could have pushed the agreement through, even if his people were initially against.
"I think that the fault here lies with the Americans. They should have worked in advance to secure a group of moderate Arab states who could have supported Arafat if he had signed the agreement, instead of leaving him to fend on his own against the Hamas and other opponents."

As for the current leadership, he said: "The chronic mistake of the Palestinians is to use a narrative of rights, instead of a narrative of joint interests. When your starting point is based on rights and absolute justice, there can be no room for compromise.

"But even during Camp David, there was a part of the Palestinian delegation, mainly the younger members, who were open to working on a base of joint interests. That still leaves hope."

The article was published in The Jewish Chronicle Online, July 2010