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Palestinians Still Reject ‘Clinton Parameters’ 

By Bernard Bohbot

The purpose of this piece is not to vilify the Palestinians but rather to stress that more needs to be done to address their legitimate grievances.  Money alone won’t solve the refugee problem.  Israel ought to envisage creative ideas that would reconcile the right of return with Israel’s existence, such as a confederal arrangement.  Oslo sought to settle the 1967 file, but no genuine peace can be achieved without addressing 1948 as well.  I agree with Prof. Hussein Agha that the refugee issue must be dealt with more resolutely than Oslo had.

Nevertheless, the international community mostly subscribes to an inaccurate “revisionist” recounting of the failed peace negotiations from 2000 to 2014 between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA).  I too subscribed to this interpretation until June 8, 2017, when the Haaretz correspondent in Washington, Amir Tibon, revealed that in March 2014, PA President Abbas walked away from a framework proposed by the Obama administration for renewed negotiations.

Proponents of this flawed interpretation (especially Robert Malley and Jeremy Pressman) overlook President Clinton’s claim that in December 2000, Israel accepted his guidelines, known as the Clinton Parameters, while the Palestinian Authority opposed them.  Instead, they argue that both sides accepted them with reservations.

In 2000/2001, Israel expressed only one significant reservation: it wanted joint control over the Holy Basin of Jerusalem (the Old City and the adjacent holy sites) through a “special regime,” so Jewish holy sites would not fall under exclusive Palestinian sovereignty (the Temple Mount/Noble Sanctuary, the Mount of Olives, the City of David, etc.).  Clinton’s framework called for a partition of the area between Israelis and Palestinians.  But that was merely a request, not an ultimatum.

Otherwise, in its official response, Israelis expressed mere disagreement with other provisions of Clinton’s framework, but there was no explicit demand to remove them.  For instance, Israel expressed “unhappiness” with the “numerical territorial values” in Clinton’s peace plan without demanding explicitly to change them; Israelis hoped to keep up to 8 percent of the West Bank in the framework of a land swap instead of only 4-6 percent.  They also feared that granting Palestinian refugees a symbolic right of return to “historic Palestine” or “their homeland” might open the door to further claims in the future. That said, Israel reiterated its willingness to negotiate within the framework of the Clinton Parameters.

At the Taba Summit, Israel gave up on all reservations.  Israel even went beyond the Clinton Parameters, as Prime Minister Ehud Barak allowed his negotiators, Yair Hirschfeld and Nimrod Novik, to offer the equivalent of 100 percent of the West Bank provided that the Palestinians stop insisting on a right of return.  Clinton proposed the creation of a Palestinian state on 97 percent of the West Bank: 94 +3 percent, with Palestinian docking in Israeli seaports and a safe passage between the West Bank and Gaza Strip to be counted as the remaining 3 percent.

By contrast, the Palestinians first rejected the Clinton Parameters before saying that they accepted them with objections that completely undermined Clinton’s principles: 

  •  Borders: Clinton’s framework called for a land swap encompassing 4-6% of the West Bank, forcing Israel to remove 20% of Jewish settlers. The PA insisted on only a 2% swap, compelling Israel to uproot most settlers outside of Jerusalem.

  • Jerusalem: Clinton’s Parameters called for a division of the city along ethnic lines, with Jewish neighborhoods going to Israel and the Arab ones to the Palestinians. The Palestinians did not accept Israeli sovereignty over the neighborhood/settlement of Har Homa and part of the Armenian Quarter.

  • Holy sites: Clinton’s Parameters called for a “vertical sovereignty” of the Temple Mount/Noble Sanctuary, while the Palestinians demanded exclusive sovereignty over this area.

  • Palestinian refugees: Clinton offered the Palestinians a symbolic right of return to “historic Palestine” but with most refugees resettling in the new Palestinian state rather than in pre-1967 Israel.  Yet the Palestinians insisted on exercising a right of return for Palestinian refugees to Israel as well.  They merely offered to implement their right of return “creatively” and “flexibly” to “accommodate Israeli concerns.”  They also wanted Israel to accept full responsibility for the creation of the refugee problem, ignoring the role of Palestinian militias and other Arab forces in rejecting the UN partition plan of 1947, and launching the hostilities which created the Nakba when they lost the war.  

These open-ended terms insinuated that the PA wanted the refugee issue to remain on the table, even after the occupation ends.  This blatantly contradicted the Clinton Parameters, which intended an agreement that would “put an end to all claims.” 

It is unclear how many refugees the Palestinians expected Israel to absorb.  In 2011, Al Jazeera and The Guardian revealed the so-called “Palestine Papers” and argued that the Palestinians wanted Israel to welcome only 150,000 refugees over a 10-year period, without mentioning that this number was “renewable thereafter at the agreement of both parties. 

In closely examining the Palestine Papers, Adi Schwartz and Einat Wilf revealed that the PA believed Israel must absorb between 500,000 and 2 million refugees before 2058. Al Jazeera and The Guardian mishandled their coverage of these documents either for ideological reasons or (more likely) because of journalistic time constraints.

It is noteworthy to say that Arafat also refused to endorse the 2003 Geneva Initiative that merely called for a 2.2% land swap and full Palestinian sovereignty over the Temple Mount/Noble Sanctuary. He praised this effort, and many thought wrongfully that he had endorsed it, but he argued that it did not go far enough regarding the refugee issue.

In 2008, Abbas walked away from a second peace plan based on the Clinton Parameters presented by Israel’s former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Yair Hirschfeld revealed that Olmert sent his negotiator, Ron Pundak, to Ramallah and offered to increase his offer, to no avail.  Olmert later said that he was ready to connect Israel to the remote settlement city of Ariel with a tunnel or an overpass rather than annexing that entire expanse of the West Bank into Israel. 

Many justify Abbas’ behavior by invoking Olmert’s indictment that rendered him a lame duck. But Olmert wanted at least an agreed-upon framework for his successor to make the 2009 election into a referendum on peace. At that time, a clear majority of Israelis accepted the Clinton Parameters.  Those who insist that Olmert had no legitimacy without a parliamentary majority fail to understand that no peace agreement can be passed without consulting the population, either in a referendum or a new election.

Maybe Israel’s peace camp should reassess the feasibility of reaching an agreement based on the Clinton Parameters.  Perhaps it’s time to envision a unilateral pullout from the bulk of the West Bank, with the IDF stationed only as necessary to prevent attacks on Israel.  Another (more attractive) solution is a confederal framework with open borders. 

Regardless, it is time we face the truth. The Palestinians have rejected three offers based on Clinton’s Parameters.  They endorsed the 2002 Arab League peace initiative, a positive step, but one that was vague regarding the refugee issue.  That said, Clinton’s guidelines do not align with their demands.  Many want to sanction Israel to end the West Bank occupation.  B’tselem now agrees with the BDS movement that the occupation makes Israel a full-fledged apartheid state.  However, such sanctions will remain futile if Palestinians keep rejecting Clinton’s framework.  It takes two to tango, but the dance floor is empty. 

4 Responses to “Palestinians Still Reject ‘Clinton Parameters’ ”

  1. Philip Mendes
    March 21, 2021 at 4:24 pm #

    Bernard: its a solid historical analysis. But I’ve got to say (as a supporter of a two state solution since 1982) that we are now further away from a serious possibility of successful peace negotiations than at any time in that four decades. I can’t see any signs of compromise from the leaders of either side, there is no common ground.

  2. Bernard Bohbot
    March 24, 2021 at 3:07 am #

    Dear Mr. Mendes,
    Thanks. There are lots of interviews behind this piece!
    I totally agree wth everything you said. However I still believe that a lot can be achieved even without a full-fledged peace agreement. Gilead Sher, Yair Hirschfeld, Yossi Alpher, Hussein Agha, and others have advocated an interim agreement on “real estate” that would not deal with the thorniest issues such as the refugees, the holy sites, and so on. It is still possible to create a two-state reality by implementing the second phase of the Roadmap, for example (a Palestinian state with provisional borders). The Northern Irish peace process was a success largely because it did not seek to achieve a final-status agreement. I also believe that down the road (and the road is long!) a confederal solution is the most logical way to achieve peace. I’m no longer a Marxist but I still remember Gramsci’s motto: “Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will”!
    https://fathomjournal.org/what-should-biden-do-next-on-israeli-palestinian-peace-and-iran-a-review-essay-by-yair-hirschfeld/
    https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/middle-east/2021-02-16/palestinian-reckoning

    PS
    I do not blame the Palestinians for the failure of the peace process. I just happen to believe that the “revisionist” interpretation of the failure of the peace process fails whereby Israel just has to offer a little more than what was put on the table in 2001, 2008, or 2014, and peace would ensue is wishful thinking. Money alone (or even excuses) won’t solve the 1948 file. It is a very difficult issue that has no easy answer.

    • ken Brociner
      May 6, 2021 at 11:37 pm #

      Bernard:

      I have long felt that the vast literature on why the peace negotiations have failed over the past 20 years almost always overlooks the excellent points you have laid out here. However, it seems to me that the “purpose” of your essay as you have stated it: “The purpose of this piece is not to vilify the Palestinians but rather to stress that more needs to be done to address their legitimate grievances.” ….. contradicts the substance of your presentation. According to the historical analysis that you have put forward (and that I happen to agree with), there have been several occasions in which the Israeli gov’t has addressed “the legitimate grievances” of the PA. Full stop. It seems as if you are bending over so far backwards to be fair that you are almost running away from your own conclusions. Perhaps I am missing something – but I would suggest that you more resolutely stand up for the convincing argument you have made.

  3. J. Martin Bailey
    May 25, 2021 at 6:25 am #

    As I study the statements of Israelis and those who support the Palestinians, I observe that well-meaning persons seem too ready to rehearse what the Palestinian Authority APPEARS TO HAVE SAID.

    Those of us who seek justice and peace from the sidelines can never replace the voices of the Palestinians themselves. Let us listen carefully to what they are saying. Let us encourage the Israelis to listen carefully and honestly.

    Honest Peace requires honest listening from all parties to the discussion.

    J. Martin Bailey
    (a Christian American who has lived in Jerusalem and Bethlehem.)

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