Said: Arafat Rejects Carter Offer to Recognize the PLO

NOTE: In an interview published in Z Magazine, December 1993, Professor Edward Said, a former member of the Palestine National Council, claimed that he had direct knowledge of Chairman Arafat's rejection of a Carter era offer to recognize the PLO and begin negotiations.

"Edward Said: The Israel/PLO Accord"

An interview in New York, September 27, 1993 by David Barsamian, Z Magazine December 1993 p. 52.

Said: ...Arafat hasn't explained to his people why he turned down so many alternatives in the past. He could have gotten much better deals from the Americans and the Israelis in the 1970s and the 1980s, but he turned them all down. So why was he saving himself up for this particular deal? That's a question that needs to be answered. It hasn't been answered.

Q: [Barsamian quotes Sol Linowitz on a MacNeil-Lehrer show saying that "the Palestinians could have gotten all of this and more at Camp David in 1979. I wonder how much of that is historical engineering?"]

It's true. I don't know about Camp David. In the fall of 1978, and I'm saying this publicly for the first time, through Hodding Carter, a classmate of mine who was working in the Carter administration, I saw Secretary of State Vance in New York more than once. We discussed it. He said that he didn't want to be talking with me. He wanted to be talking with Arafat. I said it could be arranged. He said, No, there are rules, and my predecessor says -- he never referred to Kissinger except as "my predecessor" -- we are forbidden to talk to the PLO. He said, We have a formula which I'd like you to take to chairman Arafat. The formula was that the PLO accept 242 with the reservation, since 242 doesn't talk about Palestinians, that the rights of the Palestinian people to national self-determination are still its goal. The U.S. would then recognize the PLO and begin to negotiate with Arafat directly, and then institute negotiations with Israel. I thought it was a good idea. I sent a message with Shafiq al-Hout, who was in New York for the UN, directly to Arafat. I waited for weeks and never heard back. Then Vance called me in the early part of 1979 just before they actually signed the Camp David accord and said, I'd like to know what the answer of Chairman Arafat is. I said, I haven't heard from him. He said, I will dictate the text to you again to make sure that it fits all the criteria. So in March 1979 I flew to Beirut and went to see Arafat. I said to him, We need an answer. The first thing he said was, I never received the message. So for at least ten minutes he began to deny that any message came. Luckily, Shafiq al-Hout was sitting with us in the room and he said, I delivered the message to you. Arafat said, I have no recollection of it. Shafiq went into the next room and brought a copy of it. Arafat looked at it and said, All right, tomorrow I'll give you my answer. The next day he came back with about 15 of his lieutenants, including Abu Jihad and Abu Iyyad. They came in. He sat down. He said, Edward, I want you to tell Vance that we're not interested. I said, Why? He said, We don't want the Americans. The Americans have stabbed us in the back. This is a lousy deal. We want Palestine. We don't want to negotiate with the Israelis. We're going to fight. This was in 1979. There were many such deals that went on through the 1980s as he got weaker and weaker. He had no troops to command. It was clear to me, at any rate, in the 1970s that we had no military option against Israel, any more than they had against us, but he turned it down.