On 23 December 2000, U.S. President Bill Clinton orally presented his ideas on a possible Palestinian-Israeli agreement to the delegations of the two sides gathered at a meeting at the White House. Those ideas, which came to be referred to as "parameters", were later portrayed by the U.S. media and the larger media as comprising a deal based on establishing Palestinian sovereignty over Al-Haram Al-Sharif in East Jerusalem in exchange for giving up the Palestinian refugee right of return and exempting Israel from its responsibilities therein.
The Israeli side first indicated acceptance of the American ideas as a basis for negotiation provided the Palestinian side accepted them. In a clear contradiction, however, the Israeli Prime Minister indicated that he did not intend to sign a document transferring sovereignty over Al-Haram to the Palestinian side. This was precisely the problem indicated by the Palestinian side regarding those ideas: the vagueness and lack of clarity when it comes to Palestinian rights or their achievement versus the specificity and clarity when it comes to Israeli rights or their achievement. This was viewed as the continuation of misleading and sometimes ill-intentioned previous American positions and documents.
In addition, of course, the Palestinian side expressed serious problems with the notion of giving up on the rights of the Palestine refugees, although it indicated a readiness to negotiate workable formulas for the implementation of those rights. Other serious problems had to do with territorial dimensions and the new idea of "leasing" Palestinian land in a way that would engulf the whole Palestinian territory and separate it from neighboring Jordan. Further, while the American ideas advocated that 80% of the settlers come under Israeli sovereignty, with minimum land annexation, they failed to mention the words "withdrawal" or "removal" of even the remaining 20% of the settlers from the Palestinian territory.
This article does not intend to give a full analysis of the American proposal, but rather to provide indications of its general shortcomings, which justified Palestinian insistence on further clarifications. This need for clarification led to President Arafat’s visit to the White House on 2 January 2001 and later to the conditional Palestinian acceptance of the proposal, with serious reservations, as a basis for discussion.
There are some positive aspects about the U.S. proposal but the problem is that, as they stand, they cannot represent the nucleus of a good agreement, one which is required to stand the test of time and all of the difficulties down the road. The efforts of President Clinton should be appreciated and the Palestinian side is ready to continue working with him until his last day in office, hoping to achieve concrete results. If these efforts do not come to fruition, the Palestinian side is of course ready to work as diligently with the incoming administration of President-elect George Bush.