Contrary to the opinions of the many pundits, who were not even there, Camp David was not a failure. Camp David was an important, even historic step in the 52-year effort to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict. As someone who has been involved in negotiations since the 1992 Madrid Middle East Peace Conference, I can state categorically that Palestinians And Israelis are closer to a comprehensive peace agreement than ever before. The end of our conflict is truly in sight. I say that without underestimating the gaps that still exist between the two sides on all issues.
So why didn't Camp David result in an agreement? The negotiations conducted Between July 11 and 24 marked the first time Israelis, Palestinians and Americans had seriously addressed the most sensitive issues of our conflict_ borders, refugees, Jerusalem and how a sovereign Palestinian state will interact with Israel.
At the Camp David Summit, these issues were put on the table and progress was made on all of them. It was unrealistic to expect an agreement on such sensitive issues in a mere two weeks for a conflict that has lasted for 52 years. It is pointless to play the blame game or resort to prophecies of doom and gloom. No one is at fault because there was no failure. We made real progress at Camp David and the imperative now is to build on that progress and keep the momentum going.
We should acknowledge and appreciate that both parties made important concessions and moved away from previously entrenched positions. Accusations that the Palestinian side refused to make concessions ignore both fact and history.
Palestinians are no strangers to compromise. In the 1993 Oslo Accords, we agreed to recognize Israeli sovereignty over 78 percent of historic Palestine and to establish a Palestinian state on only 22 percent. Since then, we have worked closely with Israelis to keep the peace process alive, even during the dark days of the rejections Netanyahu government. We have patiently watched deadline after deadline come and go and less patiently, we have watched as Israel continued, throughout the interim period, to act unilaterally expanding settlements, confiscating Palestinian land and building roads that divide our territory.
We also understand that Ehud Barak must reach an agreement that has the broad support of his people. So must President Arafat. While Barak's coalition crisis has brought him sympathy, people have overlooked the fact that President Arafat also answers to a politically opinionated constituency.
On the issue of Jerusalem, in particular, President Arafat must have an agreement that will be supported not only by the Palestinian people but also by Arab, Muslim and Christian communities worldwide who also are concerned about the future of the holy city. The interest of 8 million Palestinians cannot be placed ahead of the interest of 2 billion Muslims and Christians.
We still believe that Jerusalem will serve one day as the capital of the two states and are encouraged by the fact that at Camp David, for the first time ever, Jerusalem was discussed seriously, openly and creatively.
Our goal remains a comprehensive agreement by September 13. We believe that Barak is committed to peace and with President Clinton's invaluable support we are confident we can meet the challenge and close the gaps that still divide us.
Both Palestinians and Israelis need a peace for the generations, not a peace of short-term conveniences. What we learned at Camp David is that the kind of real peace both sides need will require a little more time, a little more effort and a little more pain. But we continue to believe that it is worth the time, effort, and yes, even the pain.
And we know that we can get there.
The writer is the chief Palestinian negotiator.