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The Myth of the Israeli Bantustan offer at Taba and other myths

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The Myth of the Israeli Bantustan offer at Taba and other myths

A long time ago, in an alternate universe...

The common anti-Zionist narrative of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is based on a few foundation myths, some of which are very popular and persistent in the Middle East. New myths are added to correspond with each actual historical event. To review some of the main ones:

1- Myth: "Zionist Settlement displaced the Palestinian Arabs" - The fact is that Palestinian Arab population multiplied and prospered by any possible measure between 1917 and 1948, and a result of the Zionist settlement and not despite it. (see† Zionism and its Impact and Did the Zionists plan to dispossess the Arabs of Palestine?)

2. Myth: "Massacres and racism of Arab Palestinians was a reaction to Zionist cruelty and massacres"† -† The first Arab-Palestinian massacres were in 1920, and the first anti-Semitic remarks were made about then, if not before.

For example, in† March of 1921, Musa Kazim El Husseini, deposed as Mayor of Jerusalem because of his part in riots earlier that year, told Winston Churchill:

The Jews have been amongst the most active advocates of destruction in many lands... It is well known that the disintegration of Russia was wholly or in great part brought about by the Jews, and a large proportion of the defeat of Germany and Austria must also be put at their door.

(Benny Morris, Righteous Victims, Knopf 1999 Page 99)

A month later there were bloody Arab pogroms in several towns in Palestine, not against Zionist "settlers" who supposedly displaced Arabs, but rather primarily against ancient Jewish communities such as those in Jerusalem, Hebron and Safed. Worse riots and massacres occurred in 1929 and again in 1936-39.† (see Arab Riots and Massacres of 1929)

3. Myth: "The occupation is the source of Palestinian violence" The PLO and Fateh were formed in 1964 and before, with the aim of "liberating" "Palestine" - that is, destroying Israel. They used terrorism and advocated a pan-Arab war to "liberate" Palestine. The 1967 6-day war was the result of this activity. See - Isn't the occupation the cause of the conflict and violence? and Did the Zionists plan to dispossess the Arabs of Palestine? and Why doesn't Israel withdraw from the Occupied territories and end the occupation if it wants peace?

4. Myth: "The riots and violence in September 2000 broke out because Ariel Sharon entered the holy Al Aqsa mosque." The fact is that Ariel Sharon never entered the Al Aqsa mosque. He walked on the Temple Mount, Haram As Sharif, which is supposed to be a holy place accessible to everyone. Of course the mosque, reputedly the site of the Jewish Temple should in theory be accessible to anyone as well, but Sharon didn't go there.

5. Myth: "Negotiations broke down at the end of 2000 because Israeli PM Ehud Barak offered the Palestinians only "Bantustans" - disconnected islands of Palestinian sovereignty, and failed to offer Palestinian control over holy places in Jerusalem.

This myth has achieved great popularity, but it has no relation to the facts. Below is a brief account of the negotiations adapted from the MidEastWeb Brief History of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict from which it is evident that:

  • Israel offered the Palestinians a contiguous state in 97% of the territory of the West Bank plus Gaza.
  • Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem and the Haram as Sharif (temple mount) would be incorporated into Palestine.
  • Chief US Negotiator Dennis Ross blames the Palestinians for the breakdown of the talks.
  • US President Clinton believes that Arafat made a "colossal historical blunder" in rejecting Israeli terms.
  • Saudi Arabian ambassador Prince Bandar Ibn Sultan said, "If Arafat does not accept what is available now, it won't be a tragedy, it will be a crime.

Palestinian spokespersons and supporters deliberately distorted the offer that was made and claimed that "all what was circulated that Israel proffered to the Palestinian side great concessions is incorrect," and fabricated maps to look like the offer was "Bantustans."

From MidEastWeb Brief History of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

(Copyright by MidEastWeb for Coexistence,† adapted and reproduced by permission)

Negotiations for a final settlement at Camp David in the USA, in July, 2000†ended in deadlock. Palestinians insisted that refugees should have the right to return to Israel, which would produce an Arab majority in Israel. Israel insisted on annexing key portions of the Palestinian areas and on leaving most settlements intact, and offered only a limited form of Palestinian statehood. Palestinians claim that the only offers made at Camp David included cantons or "Bantustans" that would make up the Palestinian State. This apparently characterizes initial Israeli proposals. However, in his book, The Missing Peace, 2004, Dennis Ross presents a map, shown at right, that supposedly reflects the US compromise proposal at Camp David, to include about 91% of the territory of the West Bank. Both sides agreed on Israeli withdrawal from Gaza.

Palestinian violence erupted on September 28, 2000, triggered by a visit of Ariel Sharon to the Temple mount in Jerusalem. This location, called the Haram as Sharif in Arabic, is also the site of the Al-Aqsa mosque, holy to Muslims. False rumors spread that Sharon had entered the mosque, helping to fan the unrest. †The US called a summit conference in Sharm-El Sheikh in October, in order to bring about an end to the violence. Both sides vowed to put an end to the bloodshed and return to negotiations. At the conference, it was also agreed to set up a US led investigative committee that would report on the causes of the violence and make recommendations to the UN. This eventually resulted in the Mitchell Report. †Shortly thereafter, however, Arab leaders and Yasser Arafat met in an extraordinary Arab League Summit in Cairo, and issued a belligerent communique praising the Intifada and calling for an international investigative† commission rather than the one agreed upon in Sharm El Sheikh. About two weeks later a suicide bombing in Jerusalem put an end to the truce.

Time was running out for† negotiations, as Israeli PM Ehud Barak faced elections and US President Clinton had completed his term of office. Negotiations in Washington in December of 2000 failed to produce an agreement. President Clinton provided †Bridging proposals and requested that the sides agree to the them by December 27. The outcome has been deliberately obscured by many, but Dennis Ross, chief US negotiator, was unequivocal in his memoir (Dennis Ross, The Missing Peace, 2004, pp 753-755).

According to Ross's summary, (and as published in the Bridging proposals) Clinton's proposal gave the Palestinians about 97% of the territory of the West Bank and sovereignty over their airspace. Refugees could not return to Israel without Israeli consent. An international force would remain in the Jordan valley for six years, replacing the IDF. Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem and the Haram as Sharif (temple mount) would be incorporated into Palestine. Saudi Arabian ambassador Prince Bandar Ibn Sultan said, "If Arafat does not accept what is available now, it won't be a tragedy, it will be a crime." (Ross, The Missing Peace, 2004, p.748).

The Israeli government met on December 27 and accepted the proposals with reservations, which according to Ross, were "within the parameters."† The Palestinians equivocated. The deadline passed, and no definitive Palestinian reply was forthcoming. According to Ross, on December 29, he told Abu Ala (Ahmed Qurei):†††††

Mark my words, they [the US] will disengage from the issue and they will do so at a time when you won't have Barak, or Amnon or Shlomo, but at time when you will have Sharon as Prime Minister. He will be elected for sure if there is no deal, and you 97% will become 40-45 percent; your capital in East Jerusalem will be gone; the IDF out of the Jordan Valley will be gone; unlimited right of return for refugees to your own state will be gone.

Abu Ala replied:

"I am afraid it may take another fifty years to settle this issue."

(Dennis Ross, The Missing Peace, 2004, p. 755)

The map at right was presented by Ross in The Missing Peace. It illustrates the approximate boundaries of the Palestine state under the Clinton bridging proposals, omitting land to be ceded by Israel to Palestine.

Click for Larger Map of Palestinian State Proposal

Map of Clinton Bridging Proposals, December, 2000

†At a memorial dinner held in November 2005 in memory of Yitzhak Rabin, President Clinton said that Chairman Yasser Arafat had made a "colossal historical blunder" in refusing the terms, causing the breakdown of the peace process. (Haaretz, Nov. 14, 2005). †

Palestinian negotiators present a different version. On November 13, 2005, the Palestinian Authority International Press Center related these remarks of Palestinian Minister of Information, Nabil Sha'at, on the anniversary of the death of Yasser Arafat:

He also set out that Israel has never endeavored to reach a final solution during the second Camp David negotiations, putting to rest the rumor which tells that Israel proposed for the Palestinians a state with 97% of the West Bank and 10% of the Jordan Valley.

He went ahead as saying, "all what was circulated that Israel proffered to the Palestinian side great concessions is incorrect," asserting that Israel rejected to give back Jerusalem to the Palestinian, and above all it kept adamant to annex the settlements blocs to the city of Jerusalem.

Minister Sha'at made clear that this point led the negotiations of Camp David II to a gridlock.

What was suggested by Ehud Barak, the former Israeli prime minister, was only to give Arafat a presidential headquarters in the Old City of Jerusalem, but the late president rebuffed this suggestion roundly, he added.

However, Palestinians have never disputed the published version of President Clinton's bridging proposals in which it is quite clear that the Palestinians would have sovereignty over Arab East Jerusalem, including the Haram as Sharif (temple mount).

In last minute negotiations at Taba on January 21-27 2001, under European and Egyptian patronage,† the sides failed to reach a settlement despite further Israeli concessions.† Though both sides agreed to a joint communiquť saying they had never been so close to agreement, substantive disagreements remained about the refugee issues and †final settlement maps. Israeli PM Barak broke off negotiations on January 28, 2001, suspending them until after the elections. Barak had hoped to reach a deal he could present to the Israeli public, and was angry and disappointed. Negotiations were terminated because Barak,† who had furthered the peace process, was voted out of office at the beginning of February and replaced by a right wing government headed by Ariel Sharon.

No official maps were actually presented by or to the sides during the negotiations. Following the failure of the negotiations, the Palestinians continued to claim that Israel had offered only "Bantustans" in the West Bank. The Israeli government did not publish any maps. Dennis Ross, who headed the US negotiating team, summarized the proposals presented by the USA in the maps presented above. The Gush Shalom group and the Foundation for Middle East Peace also published a map of an offer supposedly made by the Barak government at Taba.†This map is based on "Palestinian Sources." In this map there is no longer a security Zone in the Jordan valley to be guarded by the UN. You can see this map below at left. The map is deceptive for several reasons.

1. It states "Based on a 5% West Bank Territorial Transfer to Israel." - The map shows a 3% swap of Israeli land to Palestine, but that is not taken into account.

2 The map shows what people took to be Bantustans - areas of dark gray and areas of light grey. In fact all the areas were to become part of the Palestinian state. The dark areas are the current areas A and B, while the light areas were the additional territory ceded to the Palestinian state by Israel.† This bogus color coding was apparently done deliberately, to create the impression that the offer was "bantustans." The correct picture is shown in the same map, modified at right, so that all the territory of the Palestinian state is shown in the same color, as it should be. This map is quite similar to the one shown by Dennis Ross, except that the little area that was to be annexed to Israel in the north is gone, and there are some other minor border changes.

Deceptive Map

Actual Map

1. This map was published by Foundation for Middle East Peace, based on Palestinian sources. The dark and light gray areas are meaningless in terms of the settlement, and were left deliberately to give the impression of "Bantustans." 2. The above version of the same map has eliminated the bogus color coding to show what was probably the actual offer made by Israeli negotiators at Taba - a contiguous Palestinian state in most of the West Bank plus Gaza, including a shared Jerusalem. That is the offer that Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian negotiators turned down. Arafat's "historic blunder" as President Clinton termed it. "A crime" in the words of Saudi Prince Bandar.

One of the major outstanding questions was the refugee problem. U.S. President Clinton had believed there were only differences of wording between the Israeli and Palestinian approaches. Clinton's Bridging proposals called for allowing refugees to return from abroad to the Palestinian state. They could return to Israel only with the agreement of Israel. However, at Taba, the Palestinian proposal called for eventual return of all the refugees to Israel. This proposal was unacceptable to Israel as it would create an Arab majority in Israel and put an end to Jewish exercise of the right to self-determination. (see Why shouldn't Palestinian Arabs have the Right of Return?)

Ami Isseroff


Materials on this page are copyright 2005-2006 by the author, by Mideastweb for Coexistence RA, and by Zionism-Israel Information Center. Do not copy this page to a forum or Web site and do not reproduce this information in any form without express written permission.

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