Those of us who remember, one of the most important (and crucially damaging) outcomes of the Camp David 2 (CD2) talks in the summer of 2000 was Barak’s slogan “there is no partner”,the spin of all spins. Barak went to CD2 ill prepared, his preparatory briefing by the intelligence community lasting a whopping 45 minutes in which he was told by everybody present that Arafat would not sign an agreement. He then proceeded to critically mismanage the summit he had previously forced down Arafat’s throat against the latter’s objections after browbeating the US President into supporting the effort. Clinton would have loved to top his term in the White House with a Middle East Peace agreement but that was not to be. The summit, with the full cooperation of an obliging Arafat and despite Clinton’s last minute heroics, was a total failure. Whoever wants to read a balanced account of what went on at CD2 should go here.
The Taba talks which followed shortly after were in vain since by then Barak had already lost his legitimacy to make a commitment. Regardless of what really had happened at Camp David and Taba, the story that we spread with vehemence was that Barak had shown Arafat’s true face and established that there positively is no partner. And everybody lapped it up. Because it was a great story which absolved us not only of taking any blame for the failure of CD2, it also absolved us of negotiating since there was ostensibly nobody to negotiate with.
Our determination that the Palestinians were not a partner certainly contributed to the fact that the Palestinian Authority thought it had nothing to lose when it joined the band-wagon of a pretty nasty intifada. Our story, repeated ad nauseam despite scarce evidence, is that Arafat launched the intifada when CD2 failed. Most of the information available indicates that the 2nd intifada wasn’t launched or planned, it broke out spontaneously and Arafat, ever the revolutionary, decided to ride the tiger of the uprising because he thought it helped his agenda to put pressure on Israel.
Now it must be said, the no partner story wasn’t true then and it’s not true now. The constant repetition of this spin after the summer of 2000 worked flawlessly, supported, of course, by the intifada which was, to some extent, its byproduct, the self-fullfilling prophecy. By the end of Barak’s term and beyond, every Jew in Israel and quite a few outside Israel had gotten the message: There is no partner.
Only a genius like Barak could have come with such a solution to block any progess for years. It was as if he said: If I can’t close a deal, nobody will be able to. And so it was.
Fast foward, 13 years later, after one unilateral withdrawal from Gaza and after negotiations with Olmert’s government had come to naught, the present round of talks was more or less forced on the adversaries by US President Obama. No-partner Arafat had long been replaced by no-partner Abu Mazen but the no-partner label was wearing thin. Abu Mazen just didn’t fit the bill — the guy was much less unpleasant than his predecessor, said all kinds of strange things that were really threatening (he didn’t want to go back to his hometown Safed..) and worse, he had been negotiating with Olmert and even had a short session with Netanyahu in 2010. In short, he was really killing the no-partner label and people began to wonder if it was really true. In his desperation, Netanyahu, always ready to make daring moves for the security of the Jewish state came up with an ingenious idea: Demand from the Palestinians recognition as a Jewish state, something nobody had ever done before, ever since negotiations with the Palestinians started in the early 1990ties.
One can’t take it away from Netanyahu: Another cool move smack in the center of our nation’s consensus. Who could even consider challenging such an innocuous and obviously fair request ? What, we are not a Jewish state? Two measly words? And Abu Mazen can’t say them? What’s the problem? What doesn’t he understand? Is he thick? All we ask is a few lousy words and he won’t give them to us? Who does he think he is?
And once again, we are lapping it up, it’s great, it works. “No partner” has been replaced by our demand to be recognized as a Jewish state. The UN has done it decades ago, no country in the world would think otherwise but the Palestinians have to spell it out. Why? Because spelling it out in public means that they give up on their narrative, the things they believe in. Recognition as a Jewish state is a request the Palestinians cannot comply with just like we would refuse to recognize publicly (if we were asked to) that Jerusalem is the capital of Palestine.
Narratives are what people believe in, not what they do. Their narrative and our’s as well should be left out of the negotiations.
Netanyahu, just like Barak in his time, is an excellent spinmaster. When one spin stops working or is discounted, he will come up with a new one. If we continue to believe in spins, peace will not come.