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. Clinton bemoaned Arafat's 'colossal error' in saying no again
WASHINGTON (AFP) Nov 11, 2004
Yasser Arafat's biggest mistake may have been to reject a peace deal brokered by the United States in 2000, which would have given him much of what he had demanded for the Palestinians for four decades.

Former president Bill Clinton called the late Palestinian leader's move a "colossal error" that led to the election of the hawkish Ariel Sharon as Israel's prime minister and put the peace process back by years.

In a statement extending his condolences for Arafat's death, Clinton said he regretted that in 2000 Arafat had "missed the opportunity" to create a Palestinian nation, adding that he prayed "for the day when the dreams of the Palestinian people for a state and a better life will be realized in a just and lasting peace."

Clinton made his final move in December 2000 and January 2001 -- in the last weeks of his presidency -- to bring together Arafat and the Israeli prime minister of the time, Ehud Barak.

The two had already held marathon talks at the US presidential retreat of Camp David in July of 2000.

Under proposals that Clinton persuaded Israel to broadly accept, 94-96 percent of West Bank would be given to the Palestinians along with some land from Israel.

Israeli forces would have withdrawn from Palestinian territories over three years with an international force put in place and sovereignty over Jerusalem would have been divided. Israel would have kept enough land for 80 percent of its settlers and other security rights.

The Israeli cabinet agreed. Clinton wrote in his memoir "My Life" that "It was historic: an Israeli government had said that to get peace, there would be a Palestinian state in roughly 97 percent of the West Bank, counting the swap, and all of Gaza where Israel also had settlements."

But despite US pressure, Arafat could not bring himself to agree.

"Arafat said no again," Clinton wrote, adding how he closed the negotiations with a great sense of frustration and sadness.

But he felt that even then Arafat was ailing.

"At times Arafat seemed confused, not wholly in command of the facts. I had felt for some time that he might not be at the top of his game any longer, after all the years of spending the night in different places to dodge assassins bullets," he wrote.

"Perhaps he could not make the final jump from revolutionary to statesman."

Clinton believed that Arafat would not even agree the broad parameters of the deal because he did not want to be seen conceding anything.

And the president expressed his anger to the Palestinian leader in virtually their last meeting.

"Right before I left office, Arafat, in one of our last conversations, thanked me for all my efforts and told me what a great man I was.

"'Mr Chairman', I replied, 'I am not a great man, I am a failure and you have made me one'." Clinton said he warned Arafat that his actions would lead to the Israeli people turning to Sharon as leader. And Sharon was elected a few weeks later.

Nearly a year later Arafat said he was ready to negotiate on the basis of the Clinton deal.

"Apparently Arafat had thought the time to decide, five minutes to midnight, had finally come. His watch had been broken a long time," said Clinton who predicted that the final peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians will look a lot like the accord he negotiated at Camp David.

Arafat's defenders say the Palestinian leader felt as though he was being trapped into the accord by Israel and the United States, or that it was an attempt to isolate and weaken the Palestinians.

Robert Malley, who was an advisor to Clinton on Arab-Israeli affairs, and Hussein Agha, a Palestinian official, wrote in a 2001 article that Arafat believed there was not a strong enough guarantee that Barak could deliver the deal.

They said he felt that accepting the accord risked moving international attention away from legitimacy given by United Nations resolutions demanding that Israeli withdrawal from Palestinian territories and settle the refugee issue.

"Fixated on potential traps, he (Arafat) could not see potential opportunities. He never quite realized how far the prime minister was prepared to go, how much the US was prepared to push, how strong a hand he had been dealt," they wrote.

"Having spent a decade building a relationship with Washington, he proved incapable of using it when he needed it most."

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