Why Camp David II Failed: a Negotiation Theory Perspective

Rochelle-Leigh (Shelley) Rosenberg


“I don’t think they will ever reinvent the wheel. And the difference between this moment until the moment of reaching an agreement will be how many names–Palestinians and Israelis–will be added to the lists of death and agony. At the end of the day, there will be peace.”–Saeb Erekat


On July 24, 2000, after fourteen straight days of negotiations at the Camp David II presidential retreat, President Bill Clinton, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, and Palestinian Authority (PA) Chairman Yasir Arafat returned to their respective countries unable to reach a deal. Despite the summit’s failure to produce a final settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in accordance with the 1993 Oslo Agreements, Arafat requested another meeting. Nearly five months later, the parties reconvened at the White House on December 19, 2000, and following separate meetings with both parties, Clinton offered his last proposal. Barak, who had wagered his political career on the potential deal, endorsed it. Arafat made no counteroffer and gave no explanation. Instead, he simply walked away.

Arafat’s exit shocked the world: “Arafat’s decision to walk away from these offers, effectively ending the Oslo peace process and inflaming the burgeoning second intifada . . . stunned the U.S. and Israeli leaders.”[1] Shortly after, in his New York Times column “Foreign Affairs; Yasir Arafat’s Moment,” Thomas Friedman explained to the American public that Arafat “played rope-a-dope. He came with no compromise ideas of his own on Jerusalem. He simply absorbed Mr. Barak’s proposals and repeated Palestinian mantras about recovering all of East Jerusalem.”[2] Even Arab leaders admitted that they were caught off guard when Arafat cut off negotiations.[3] In his autobiography, My Life, Clinton reflected on an exchange he had with Arafat upon his abrupt departure. “You are a great man,” Arafat told Clinton after Camp David II. Clinton responded, “I am not a great man. I am a failure, and you have made me one.”[4]

This paper examines the failure of Camp David II from a negotiation perspective. For the purposes of this paper, Barak and Arafat represent the nations of Israel and Palestine, theoretically unified entities. It should also be noted that due to the complexity of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, this paper takes a simplistic view of the hypothetical unified parties’ primary interests at a single point in time. It begins with a sketch of each party’s primary interest. It then evaluates why the Clinton proposal did not offer a Zone of Possible Agreement (ZOPA).[5] The paper concludes with suggestions for use in future negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians in the hope that one day a “final settlement” will be reached.


[1] Russell Korobkin & Jonathan Zasloff, Roadblocks to the Roadmap: A Negotiation Theory Perspective on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict After Yasser Arafat,30 Yale J. Int’l L. 1, 24 (2005).

[2]Thomas L. Friedman, Foreign Affairs; Yasir Arafat’s moment, N.Y. Times, July 28, 2000, www.nytimes. com/2000/07/28/opinion/foreign-affairs-yasir-arafat-s-moment.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm.

[3]Elsa Walsh, The Prince: How the Saudi Ambassador Became Washington’s Indispensable Operator, New Yorker, Mar. 24, 2003, at 48.

[4] Bill Clinton, My Life 633 (Knopf Publishing Group, 2004).

[5] Robert H. Mnookin, Scott R. Peppet, & Andrew S. Tulumello, Beyond Winning: Negotiating to Create Value in Deals and Disputes 19 (Library of Congress-Cataloging-in-Publication-Data, 2000).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.