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Camp David III: Renegotiating Peace

How are 50 college students working to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

October 28, 2005

How are 50 college students working to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

August 15, 2005 was a historic day in the 57-year-old conflict between Israelis and Palestinians — the day when Israel began evacuating 8,000 Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip after 38 years of military occupation. Israel occupied Gaza and the larger West Bank during the 1967 Arab-Israeli War.

On that same day, 7,000 miles away in Washington, D.C., 50 college students were beginning the "Camp David III" seminar — a two-week intensive program where they would negotiate a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict based on a revised version of the "Road Map."

The "Road Map" is the guide to Israeli-Palestinian peace endorsed in 2003 by the "Quartet" — the United States, the European Union, the United Nations and Russia — which supports the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

The world will have to wait to see if the "real diplomats" linked the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza to the "Road Map." But the Camp David III students had no time to waste. They wanted to build on the momentum established by the withdrawal — and come up with a peace treaty that would satisfy the minimal requirements of both Israelis and Palestinians.

Camp David III was sponsored by The Washington Center for Internships & Academic Seminars, which annually provides accredited internships to more than 1,200 students from the United States, Mexico, Korea and the Middle East. In addition, the Center provides seminars on the Arab-Israeli conflict, international terrorism, the U.S. Congress, media and public policy and international business.

Before beginning the simulation, students heard from ambassadors, diplomats, U.S. government officials and others representing a variety of perspectives on the conflict. Some of the speakers opened the students' minds to new ideas — and a few got them angry.

Nura Jaber, a Palestinian student from Tiffin University in Ohio, said she was amazed when she heard Lara Friedman, director of Americans for Peace Now, sympathize with Palestinians. The organization is the voice of the Israeli peace movement in the United States.

"Lara was pro-Israel, but she understood the Palestinians need a state too, that Israel can't just throw the Palestinians off their land," said Ms. Jaber, who spent her early years in the Kalandia Refugee Camp in the West Bank. "I never heard a pro-Israel person say this before."

Justin Meyers, a Jewish student from the University of Calgary in Canada, said he was encouraged to learn there are Palestinians who stand up for Palestinian rights without demonizing Israel.

"The Palestinian speakers I heard in Canada were always spewing anti-Israeli hatred and defending suicide bombers," he said. "Rafi Dajani and Amjad Atallah were different. They took a hard line against Israeli settlements, checkpoints and the Israeli security barrier, but they also accept Israel. If they were the Palestinians negotiating with Israel, maybe we'd be closer to peace."

Rafi Dajani is executive director of the American Task Force on Palestine — an advocacy group for Palestinians based in Washington, D.C. Amjad Atallah is president of the Strategic Assessments Initiative and a former legal advisor to the PLO.

During the second week of Camp David III, students were divided into six different delegations representing Israel, the Palestinians, the Arab States, the United States, the EU, Russia and the International Community. They assumed the roles of the major leaders involved in the conflict including Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, U.S. President George W. Bush and UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.

Like the real Road Map, this one envisioned a new Palestinian state "living side by side in peace and security with Israel and its neighbors." But it reflected changes in the political landscape over the last two and half years and provided more details. A Monitoring, Evaluation and Enforcement Committee (MEEC) gave more power to the Quartet to judge how well Israelis and Palestinians did what they promised.

Students broke up into different committees, where they carved out agreements on building a Palestinian economy, disarming Palestinian armed groups and dismanteling Jewish settlements and the barrier Israel is building in the West Bank. The "Final Status Issues" of the borders between Israel and Palestine and Jerusalem and Palestinian refugees proved to be the toughest to negotiate.

One of the most contentious issues facing Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) is what to do about the violent attacks against Israeli civilians and soldiers carried out by Hamas and other armed factions.

Matt Hallex, a student from City University of New York, who played Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, said his committee had a heated discussion on this issue. The PA delegate in Mr. Hallex's committee promised to ensure a 50% decline in violent attacks against Israelis in 2006 — in comparison to the average annual rate of attacks since the second intifada started in 2000.

"This included attacks against Israeli settlers and soldiers too," said Mr. Hallex. "The PA agreed because we Israelis didn't require them to stop all terrorism. We wanted the Palestinians to make a credible effort but not force them to meet impossible demands."

For Chioma Sibeudu, a Nigerian student from Kean University in New Jersey, developing the Palestinian economy is crucial to a peaceful future for Palestinians and Israelis. She played James Wolfensohn, the Quartet's Special Envoy on the Gaza Disengagement.

Ms. Sibeudu and her Economic Committee created a detailed plan for Palestinian agriculture, industry, trade, infrastructure, schools, hospitals and employment. "Right now the Palestinians feel like they are being cheated," said Ms. Sibeudu. "If they have good jobs and decent housing like Israelis, they won't be so angry and this will reduce the violence."

Peter Stephens, managing director of The Washington Center and an expert on trade-based public policies, recently returned from a trip to the West Bank. He emphasized the importance of attracting direct foreign investment to the Palestinian territories and applauded Ms. Sibeudu's Economic Committee for establishing a free trade zone between Israel and the new Palestinian state.

Most of the world, except a few Arab and Israeli extremists, believe there should be a "two-state" solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The U.S.-supported "Road Map" says the Israeli occupation must end but does not specify the borders.

The Camp David Borders, Settlements and Security Committee decided the Palestinian state should include Gaza and about 95% of the West Bank. Israel would annex the major settlement blocs except Maale Adumim. The Palestinians would get a 5% land exchange in Israel — half of which had to be arable land.

"Giving up Maale Adumim was very difficult for the Israeli delegation," said German Urena, who was Israeli Vice-Premier Shimon Peres in the simulation. "It is the largest West Bank settlement and just a few miles from Jerusalem." Palestinians object to Israel building in what is known as the "E1 corridor" — a narrow undeveloped piece of land located between Maale Adumim and Jerusalem.

"But an Israeli settlement so close to Jerusalem made the Palestinian and other Arab delegates on our committee very nervous," said Ms. Urena. "We thought peace was more important than keeping Maale Adumim."

The status of Jerusalem and the fate of some four million Palestinian refugees were the toughest issues to negotiate. Borrowing from the guidelines offered by U.S. President Bill Clinton in December 2000, the students divided Jerusalem and made it the capital of both Israel and Palestine.

The Refugee Committee came up with its own ingenious solution. Israel and the Arab states would both issue apologies for their "respective roles in the 1948 and 1967 Palestinian refugee crises." The Arab states would apologize for their roles in causing the exodus of Jews from Arab states following Israel's creation in 1948.

Forty-thousand refugees with families in Israel would be allowed to immigrate to Israel. The EU would help develop the Negev Desert, where some of the refugees might want to settle. The rest would make their homes in Palestine, the Arab states or a third country that would accept them.

Nura Jaber, who represented the Palestinians in the Refugee Committee, says refugees would be much better off with other Palestinians than in Israel. "Refugees who move to Israel would have to live in a state created by someone else instead of a country they built themselves."

Taryn Fivek, who played Mr. Abbas, hopes the Gaza Withdrawal and the October 20 meeting between Mr. Abbas and President Bush will provide the momentum to renew peace talks, although she is not optimistic this will happen soon. Does Ms. Fivek have any advice for the real diplomats?

"When our seminar started, many of us had rigid ideas about how Israel could win and how the Palestinians could win. But the more education we got, the more we grew in our views," she said. "At the end of the day, everyone realized that in order to win there had to be peace. It's something for the real diplomats to think about."