Analysis: Corrupt leaders can't make peace

By Anshel Pfeffer, July 8, 2010

Both Israelis and Palestinians emerged from the failed Camp David talks 10 years ago feeling they had gained the upper hand. PM Ehud Barak and his team were certain that they had finally "unmasked Arafat's real intentions".

They had offered them almost the whole of West Bank, unprecedented rights in Jerusalem and territorial exchanges around Gaza, and Yasir Arafat had said 'no'. Barak thought he was in an unassailable position.

Arafat also returned jubilant. He had stood up for the Palestinian people's rights and not agreed to budge an inch on the core issues of Jerusalem and the right of return for Palestinian refugees. Basking in the adoration of the masses as he returned to Ramallah, he felt that he had secured his place as one of the great liberators of the Arab nation.

The euphoria was not to last long for either of them. Three months later, the second intifada broke out. Israelis disgusted at Mr Barak's failure in delivering peace or security turfed him out of office after one of the shortest premierships in Israeli history. In his place came Mr Arafat's nemesis, Ariel Sharon, who lost little time in besieging the Muqata compound in Ramallah. The father of the Palestinian revolution ended his days in dubious circumstances holed up in a few rooms of a destroyed office block.

But the legacy of Camp David is still with us. The basic framework presented by President Bill Clinton before the two parties is still seen, almost universally, as the most viable - perhaps the only viable - solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A year-and-a-half ago when then Prime Minister Ehud Olmert proposed his own peace plan to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, it was essentially the same.

Of course, this consensus does not include Israelis who are devoted to the ideal of Eretz Yisrael Hashlema, the whole of the land of Israel, or those who see a mortal threat in the establishment of a Palestinian state west of the Jordan river. Neither does it include that part of the Palestinian society who believe that the Jewish state is a passing phase.

But all the polling done over the last decade shows a clear majority of public opinion in both nations broadly in favour of the Camp David formula.

So why have they voted differently - Israelis for a right-wing Likud-led coalition and Palestinians for Hamas?

Blaming the voters is too easy. Kadima, Labor and Fatah all lost favour for the same reasons: corruption and chronic mismanagement of their nation's affairs. The fundamental reason for the absence of peace is not just the lack of trust between Israelis and Palestinians, but the problem between the people and their politicians.

Only a trusted leadership can persuade the public to take the necessary risks for peace.

Last updated: 2:26pm, November 8 2010