Negotiation in Practice at Camp David Summit

Israeli Palestine Conflict

By Ali Arif


The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict is one of the longest running disputes in modern history.  It is a very complex issue which can be traced back to ancient times.  The issue can be analyzed from a geopolitical, religious, cultural, military, diplomatic as well as countless other angles.  However, this paper will focus on the negotiations undertaken by the two sides.  Even when approached from that narrow angle, the topic would still require a multi-volume treatise in order to be fully analyzed. Therefore, this paper will focus specifically on the Camp David Summit of 2000 (Summit) and analyze the breakdown in the negotiations why the two sides came to an impasse.

Brief History

In order to fully understand the topic, a brief history of the conflict up until the Summit is necessary.  Up until 1917, the areas known today as Israel and Palestine were controlled by the Ottoman Empire. Starting in 1897, hundreds of thousands of Jewish immigrants from Europe and the Russian Empire began arriving in Palestine.  Shortly before the end of World War I, Great Britain issued the Balfour Declaration, which promised a Jewish homeland in Palestine. After the Ottoman Empire was defeated in the war, the League of Nations confirmed a British mandate over Iraq and Palestine. As more Jews continued immigrating to the area, the Arab population of the area began rioting and demanded a halt to Jewish immigration. The British imposed quotas on immigration but immigration continued illegally. This led to a conflict between the Jewish population of Palestine and the British mandate.  As Jews fled Europe during the Holocaust and attempted to enter Palestine, they were stopped by British authorities and detained in internment camps.  The attempts to limit the immigration led to bad publicity for the British and the government decided to refer the issue to the United Nations.

The United Nations Special Commission for Palestine passed Resolution 181 which called for the partition of the territories into an Arab and a Jewish state and for Jerusalem to be an international city to be administered directly by the UN. Fighting between the Jewish and Arab communities erupted soon after the UN resolution.  Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled or were evicted during the fighting and escaped to neighboring countries and hoped to return when peace was restored. As the last of the British troops left, Israel declared independence and was recognized by the United States and the Soviet Union.  In 1948, Iraq, Transjordan, Syria, Lebanon, and Egypt declared war and invaded the newly formed state.  The Arab armies were defeated and the aftermath of the war resulted in Egypt taking control of the Gaza strip and Transjordan annexing the West Bank. In 1964, the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) was formed to liberate the homeland of the Palestinian people.  In 1967, Egypt blockaded the Straits of Tiran which caused Israel to launch preemptive strikes on Egypt, Syria, Iraq, and Jordan.  Within six days, Israel occupied Gaza, the Sinai, the West Bank, and Jerusalem.  The UN Security Council passed Resolution 242 which confirmed the inadmissibility of the acquisition of land by force and called for Israel’s withdrawal from occupied territories. Israel continued the occupation and began building settlements in the occupied territory, a move that has been regarded as against international law. Yasser Arafat was named chairman of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) shortly after the war.  After various treaties and political events throughout the years, the PLO received control over the West Bank and the Gaza strip.  The PLO recognized the existence of Israel, renounced violence as a tactic, and accepted Resolution 242 which led to the 1993 Oslo Accords (Accords). The Accords laid down the groundwork for future negotiations, between the two sides, including the transformation of the PLO into the Palestinian National Authority (PA).  The Israeli government was to negotiate with the PA over a final status settlement in the future.  These future negotiations were supposed to come to fruition during the Camp David Summit of 2000.

The Issues

President Bill Clinton invited Ehud Barak (Barak), Prime Minister of Israel, and Yasser Arafat (Arafat), Chairman of the PA to Camp David Maryland where the two representatives were to resolve their differences once and for all.  Throughout the conflict, a host of issues had cropped up and each had to be addressed in order to reach a final settlement.  The first issue concerned the Israeli settlements that had been established since the 1967 war throughout Gaza and the West Bank.  The second issue focused on the Palestinian refugees that had fled during the two wars and how they would be compensated for their losses. Another major issue was the status of Jerusalem and which side would have sovereignty over the holy sites in the area.  Finally, Israel wanted its security concerns addressed in any final resolution.

The Parties

The Summit is a great example of the hidden table; where the most important parties are not physically present at the negotiating table.  Barak and Arafat approached the negotiating table as the representatives for the Israelis and the Palestinians, respectively. The Summit is also a great example of the second table: the relationship that parties share with their constituents.  This clearly influenced the negotiation tactics undertaken by both sides.  Barak had a broad government coalition of both hardliners and peace advocates and he did not want to alienate either. He did not want to make concessions concerning the settlements in the West Bank because the settlers were also a major part of his constituency.  Although he believed that he had wide latitude to make concessions in order to reach a settlement, and that the Israeli public would ratify an agreement, he wanted to cause as little political friction as possible because he did not want to end up like his predecessor Yitzhak Rabin, who had been assassinated after negotiating the Oslo Accords by a radical Jewish extremist.

As for Arafat, saving face was essential.  He did not want to appear as weak, or as a pawn of Israel and the United States.  He had fought in the 1948 war against Israel, had been one of the founders of Fatah, an organization dedicated to armed struggle against Israel, and had been recognized as the official leader of the Palestinian people.  He had a reputation and a strong history of standing up to Israel and did not want to be viewed as having surrendered by making concessions.  He also had several constituencies which he had to consider including the PA, Palestinian refugees, and Palestinian inhabitants.  Members of the PA retained different ideologies.  Arafat’s decision to officially recognize Israel, renounce violence, and negotiate the Oslo Accords had created major rifts within the PLO as well as the Arab world at large.  Similarly, while Palestinian refugees disapproved of the Oslo Accords, Palestinian inhabitants generally favored the peace and economic prosperity which the Accords promised.

Before the Negotiation

Arafat also sought to save face due to steps that Israel had taken prior to the negotiation which Arafat and the Palestinians viewed as insolent.  Barak’s newly elected government’s first diplomatic move was to attempt negotiations with Syria, rather than with Palestine. Over the years, Syria had not addressed Israeli concerns and in fact had not even recognized Israel as a state while the PLO had recognized Israel, had several face-to-face contacts, and had worked closely with Israeli security services.  Only when it was clear that negotiations with Syria were going to be fruitless did Israel shift its focus to Arafat.  The Palestinians saw this as a power play, designed to publicly humiliate and isolate them.  This signaled to the Palestinians that the new administration did not place a high priority on the Palestinian issue and were now only addressing their issues because their first plan had failed.

Arafat had maintained that the time was not right for a summit because many obligations from 1993 had not been fulfilled.  When he met with Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, he informed her that he believed that several more weeks of intense negotiations were necessary before a trilateral summit should be held.  However, after Albright met with Barak, she recommended to Clinton that he should issue invitations.  Given that this was a high profile summit with a rushed timetable and agenda decided by Barak and Clinton, Arafat began to question whether this negotiation was a plot to disregard Palestinian ideas and concerns and force Arafat to accept an unconscionable deal.  When Arafat asked what the terms of the Israeli offer were going to be, he was told that Barak had come up with ideas that would only be disclosed at the Summit which added to his suspicions.

The Setting and Ground Rules

The location where a negotiation takes place is usually a matter of dispute between the two parties.  The common perception is that it is advantageous to negotiate on one’s own turf. Therefore, President Clinton viewed the United States as neutral territory and decided to hold the Summit on US territory.  After all, even though the Oslo Accords were negotiated in Norway, they were signed on the White House lawn.  However, to the Palestinians, the United States was anything but neutral territory.  The US provided Israel with $3 billion annually in economic and military aid and was the largest recipient of US aid since World War II. This, along with the US and Israel’s persistence to continue with the Summit despite the Palestinian pleas to wait until more underlying negotiations had taken place led to an immediate atmosphere of distrust.

Informality was the basis for the ground rules during the negotiation.  Camp David is a wooded area typically used by the President as a country retreat.  Members of the delegation were assigned to different cabins and meals were taken together in one cabin so that the two delegations could have the chance to mingle. Suits and ties were not allowed.  Delegates reported seeing Madeline Albright jogging on a trail or running into President Clinton at the gym. Albright also invited the two sides to watch a movie and to play in a basketball game.  As for the format of the actual negotiations, they consisted of meetings between specific committees designated to discuss the various issues, meetings between two negotiators from each side, and meetings between one delegation and Albright.

Clearly, President Clinton’s tactic was to transform the personal conflict between the two delegations into task conflict as well as building trust between the two sides. Clinton was very adept at using psychological strategies to gain trust between himself and the two sides.  He constantly held separate meetings with Arafat and Barak.  The Palestinian delegation noted that he carried his own tray during dinner, served himself at the buffet, and joined them at dinner and discussed topics such as his wife’s potential to win a Senate seat in New York. They also noted the special relationship between Clinton and Arafat.  Before Oslo, Arafat was considered a terrorist leader but Clinton had invited him to the White House to sign the Accords.  They had met on several occasions after Oslo and had developed a personal connection.  Although Clinton succeeded in building trust between himself and the two delegations, he was not successful in building trust between the representatives of the delegations.  Barak and Arafat met face to face only once for tea and the conflict remained personal to the two sides.


Barak was determined to have an all-in-one, take it or leave it package.  This way he would unveil to the Israeli public the concessions and the gains all at once and minimize any political backlash. This entailed doing away with interim obligations that had been decided at Oslo and other negotiations. If he continued with the interim obligations, it would seem like he was giving concession without receiving any benefits and he would be harmed politically.  Arafat, however, saw the interim and long-term issues as inextricably connected and would reflect Israel’s dedication towards a permanent status deal. Therefore, Barak’s discarding of past interim agreements signaled to Arafat that Israel was not serious about negotiating a just peace.

Barak attempted to manipulate Arafat’s better alternative to a negotiated agreement (BATNA) and leave him with no fall back option. He urged the US not to even insinuate that Arafat had other options besides reverting to the status quo: an emasculated Palestinian territory under military occupation.  In fact, he made it clear that if the fails talked, it might result in a situation far grimmer than the status quo. Arafat viewed these threats, as well as the insistence of making the venue a high profile summit as a tactic to create pressure on the Palestinians and to increase the political and symbolic costs in case of impasse. He was persuaded that the Americans and Israelis were setting a trap for him and his goal became to leave the negotiation without being caught by the trap.


Unbundling the issues is a critical concept in negotiating.  If a negotiation contains only one issue, then it becomes purely distributive and each side can only argue about which gets a larger portion. At the start of the negotiations, President Clinton proposed adding more issues to the negotiations such as water rights, the economy, as well as other issues.  The two delegations, however, did not budge on the agenda and wanted to focus strictly on the four major issues of territory, security, refugees, and the status of Jerusalem. The sides also failed to unbundle the issues and discuss the various nuances that each of these broad issues inherently entailed.

In dealing with the refugee issue, Israel proposed to set up an international fund to compensate those who had fled the area in 1948 and 1967.  The fact that it was international money and not Israeli money was offensive to the Palestinians.  They wanted Israel to accept responsibility for the refugee crisis and this seemed to the Palestinians a strategy to avoid responsibility.  Moreover, the fact that the fund would also compensate Jews who had left Arab countries during the war angered the Palestinians because they had nothing to do with their removal.  Further, there were no timetables set up for this proposal and the fact that it was an international fund meant that payment into it was not guaranteed by any one state and meant no commitment on the part of Israel.

The issue of territorial borders of Israel and the resulting Palestinian state demonstrate the essence of distributive bargaining and was one of the most significant reasons for the impasse.  Negotiators usually mention “slicing the pie.”  Here, it was not a pie, but rather a large piece of land.  The Palestinians called for immediate withdrawal of Israeli forces and settlements from the West Bank and Gaza.  However, since settlers were an important part of Barak’s constituency, he could not politically afford to alienate them.  The Israeli delegation proposed annexation of several settlements in the West Bank to Israel in exchange for Israeli land in the Negev Desert.  The Palestinians were offended by this offer and refused to negotiate further.  They viewed this as an effort by Israel to legitimize the gains from the 1967 war.  Further, due to Israeli security concerns, a Palestinian state would have to be demilitarized and not have control over its airspace.  Israel reserved the right to maintain a military presence in the Jordan Valley as an early warning mechanism and demanded the right to inspect all goods imported into Palestine.  The Palestinians saw these demands as violative of the basic principles of state sovereignty and a tactic by Israel to control Palestinian waterways.

The issue of Jerusalem was so volatile that Albright did not want to include it at first and wanted to delay its resolution until another time.  She was forced to include it when Arafat threatened to leave if it was not addressed. Again, the pie slicing here was distributive with each side arguing about how much of the city each side would have control over and therefore no agreement was reached.

At the end, there were no firm offers by either side.  Barak wanted to make sure not to give away Israeli reservation points and make one-sided concessions that the Palestinians could use in later negotiations. Therefore, not a single suggestion was written down and all were conveyed orally.  This made every proposal vague and incomplete with many concepts left to be defined.  Additionally, the Palestinians viewed the US as only addressing Israeli concerns.  Throughout the negotiation, President Clinton stressed the impact of any decision on Barak’s coalition government.  The Palestinians could care less about what happened to Barak’s government. They directly rejected President Clinton’s insistence that any concessions by Israel would have to be matched by Palestinian concessions. They considered themselves the victims of Israeli aggression for over forty years and felt that they should not be forced to give anything up.


The Summit began to fall apart since no decision could be agreed on for any of the issues and Arafat decided to leave.  Clinton threatened Arafat that he risked losing the support of the US and that the President will wash his hands clean of the peace process if Arafat left the Summit.  Arafat was not fazed and instructed his delegation to start packing.  Clinton responded by calling several Arab leaders telling them that progress had been made, that a deal was on the table and that Arafat was going to let it all go to waste. He urged the leaders to call Arafat and ask him to sign an agreement.  This tactic was not successful.  At this time, Clinton was due to travel to Okinawa for the G8 summit.  Clinton parked his motorcade of limousines and SUVs outside Arafat’s cabin, signaling that this was his last chance. Again, this did not persuade Arafat to stay.  Finally, Clinton persuaded Arafat to stay and negotiate until he returned from the G8 Summit.  However, Clinton had been such a pivotal figure in the dynamics of the negotiation that when Albright took over in his place, neither side took her seriously and spent the next few days catching up on sleep.  When Clinton returned, not much had changed.  Marathon negotiations continued but achieved no meaningful results.  This time, both sides walked away without signing any agreement.


The negotiations that took place during the Camp David summit highlighted several areas in negotiation theory and practice.  The history of distrust and personal conflict between the two sides prevented any meaningful solutions from being reached.  Instead of focusing on the merits of the proposals, the Palestinians focused on the identity of the opposing side.  Although the offers made by the Israelis were fraught with problems, the Palestinian delegation did not recognize that these offers were not the Israeli reservation points and were only a base rather than a ceiling.  The Israelis were willing to make compromises but Barak did not make that clear.  The Palestinians took each proposal with indignation and did not attempt to fully explore the issues.  President Clinton tried to address this animosity between the two sides first by choosing the location of the negotiations.  Camp David was a wooded, country retreat with a relaxed and informal atmosphere.  He also tried to get the two sides to relax by enforcing a casual dress code and making them participate in recreational activities together.  None of this, however, overcame the distrust and negotiating tactics of the two sides.  Since Arafat viewed the Summit as a trap, he focused much more on not getting caught than on the substance of the proposals.  Barak did not reveal just how willing he was to make concessions and instead decided on a hard-line stance right away.  In the end, the Palestinian delegation was proud to have come to US territory and defiantly reject Israeli proposals.  Tragically, although both sides could have come to an acceptable agreement, both walked away and the conflict remains unresolved.

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