What with Chairman Arafat's current poor health, there's been a lot of talk about his rôle in middle-eastern politics, and particularly about the negotiations at Camp David in 2000 and in Egypt the next year, at which it is widely stated by the unsympathetic that Arafat turned down an Israeli offer of Palestinian independence broadly equivalent to their demand of a return to the pre-1967 borders, including possession of East Jerusalem.

Now, I have to say that such claims always puzzle and annoy me, because in fact even people who were at those negotiations don't agree even on whether an offer was made, and certainly not on what precisely such an offer might have constituted. How, then, all the commentators who weren't present at the meetings can claim such surety rather escapes me.

I've revisited an article I think I read a couple of years ago by Hussein Agha and Robert Malley - the latter, having been present at these Camp David talks as a member of the US team, is able to comment not only on what propositions were made but also how the principals reacted to them. Their central claim is that while it seemed obvious to the Israeli government that the settlement they had in mind was vastly more generous than anything previously suggested or considered, it looked from the Palestinian side (especially taking into account events in the runup to the talks) to be "neither generous, nor Israeli, nor, indeed, as an offer." "They could not accept the ambiguous formulations that had served to bridge differences between the parties in the past and that later, in their view, had been interpreted to Israel's advantage; this time around, only clear and unequivocal understandings would do." Unfortunately, no such clear statements were forthcoming : "His strategy was predicated on the belief that Israel ought not to reveal its final positions—not even to the United States—unless and until the endgame was in sight. Had any member of the US peace team been asked to describe Barak's true positions before or even during Camp David—indeed, were any asked that question today—they would be hard-pressed to answer."

It's important to note that they aren't arguing that Barak was negotiating in poor faith. Quite the reverse, in fact. They accept that he was not just willing but eager to reach a settlement, and very possibly envisaged an outcome that would indeed meet with all the legitimate Palestinain concerns. No such plan was circulated by either side, though, which should probably be more regarded as a joint failure by both parties rather than being blamed exclusively on one (or even on one individual, as we've recently been hearing).

"The Palestinians' overall behavior, when coupled with Barak's conviction that Arafat merely wanted to extract Israeli concessions, led to disastrous results. The mutual and by then deeply entrenched suspicion meant that Barak would conceal his final proposals, the "endgame," until Arafat had moved, and that Arafat would not move until he could see the endgame. Barak's strategy was predicated on the idea that his firmness would lead to some Palestinian flexibility, which in turn would justify Israel's making further concessions. Instead, Barak's piecemeal negotiation style, combined with Arafat's unwillingness to budge, produced a paradoxical result. By presenting early positions as bottom lines, the Israelis provoked the Palestinians' mistrust; by subsequently shifting them, they whetted the Palestinians' appetite. By the end of the process, it was hard to tell which bottom lines were for real, and which were not."

The article is here, and is well worth reading in full. It's easy - and for some people, convenient - to cast Arafat as the villain of the piece, but as Wilde said, the truth is never pure and rarely simple.
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there has also always been a power struggle WITHIN the Palestinian camp

Yes. As there has been between Israeli politicians and parties, but that gets more attention.

Some middle class arabs feel that Arafat has to some extent been a bit more of a career politician and less the selfless freedom fighter type he protrays himself as.

I would agree with that to a fair extent.