UK Media Watch

Contrary to Robert Fisk’s claim, Israel did offer Arafat at least 95 percent of the West Bank

Among other words we could use to describe Robert Fisk, he’s clearly a curmudgeon, one who views the West’s foreign policy towards the Middle East as a “cynical charade” without ever offering readers any insight into how a more noble, principled stance would take form.  Though he’s the Independent’s Middle East ‘analyst’, he’s more of a professional cynic than a learned student of the region.  Moreover, though he feigns neutrality in his scathing attacks on political hypocrisy, his body of work clearly suggests that he sees some targets as more deserving of opprobrium than others.

His latest piece at the Indy was putatively a critique of the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia’s visit to the UK, but his meandering style of writing – whatever the topic – allows him the freedom to settle scores on other, at best tangentially related, Middle East ‘iniquities’, and often leads to at least one gratuitous swipe at Israel.  

After a few examples of what he sees as Britain’s lack of principle or consistency when dealing with Mid-East leaders, what the clearly erudite and sage truth teller refers to as the “transmogrifications” of political actors from “evil to good” or “good to evil” in the eyes of the foreign office, he pivots to the Palestinians:

Yasser Arafat – not that we even think of him these days – was a Palestinian super-terrorist in Beirut. He was the centre of World Terror until he shook hands with Yitzhak Rabin and Bill Clinton, at which point he became a super-statesman. But the moment he refused to deviate from the Oslo agreement and accept Israeli hegemony over the West Bank – he was never offered “90 per cent” of it, as the American media claimed – he was on the way to super-terrorism again. Surrounded and bombarded in his Ramallah hovel, he was airlifted to a Paris military hospital where he conveniently died. The Israelis had already dubbed him “our bin Laden”, a title they later tried to confer on Arafat’s luckless successor Mahmoud Abbas – who was neither a super-terrorist nor a super-statesman but something worse: a failure.

There’s so much to unpack, such as his skepticism over ‘claims‘ that Yasser Arafat was “super-terrorist”, and the conspiratorial tone of his characterisation of how Arafat “conveniently” died. 

However, there’s also one particular claim that caught our attention – where he accuses the American media of something akin to fake news regarding the Israeli offer to Arafat at Camp David.  The late Palestinian leader was not, Fisk writes, offered 90 per cent of the West Bank.

In fact, Arafat was offered a contiguous state encompassing Gaza, east Jerusalem and considerably more than 90 percent of the West Bank. And, it’s not just the “American media” making this “claim”. It’s three of the principle players during negotiations – Bill Clinton, his chief peace negotiator Dennis Ross and Martin Indyk, the US Ambassador to Israel.  They’ve all characterised the proposed Palestinian state offered by Israel as representing between 95-97 percent of the West Bank.

The former US president said, in his memoirs, and more recently that, during the 2000-2001 talks, he had a deal Arafat turned down “that would have given them all of Gaza, 96 to 97 percent of the West Bank”.

In Dennis Ross’s book, The Missing Peace, and in a NYT op-ed in 2007, he writes that Arafat was indeed offered 97 percent of the West Bank.  Further, Ross dismisses Arafat’s claim – parroted by Fisk – that he wasn’t even offered 90 percent as a “myth”.

Here’s the relevant text from Ross’s NYT op-ed:

“Put simply, the Clinton parameters would have produced an independent Palestinian state with 100 percent of Gaza, roughly 97 percent of the West Bank and an elevated train or highway to connect them.”

Mr. Arafat himself tried to defend his rejection of the Clinton proposals by later saying he was not offered even 90 percent of the West Bank or any of East Jerusalem. But that was myth, not reality.

Here’s the relevant passage from Ross’s book. 

Martin Indyk, who, as US Ambassador, personally received Israel’s acceptance of the peace plan, explains the details to an incredulous Medhi Hasan:

We’ve complained to Indy editors about this erroneous claim by Robert Fisk.

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