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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2005, Vol. 5 No. 1 .


Negotiating Outside the Law: Why Camp David Failed
Helmick, S.J. and Raymond G.

London: Pluto Press, 2004,
342pp HB 19.95 ISBN: 0 7453 2219 0


This book gives a personalised account by American Jesuit priest and Professor of Conflict Resolution, Raymond Helmick, of his understanding of the Camp David negotiation in 2000. He does so by publishing much of the personal correspondence and position papers between himself and key players involved in that process. However, the title of this book does the content little justice, since the content offers the reader much more than a simple synopsis of why Camp David failed in 2000. Indeed, this book also presents a rather succinct and clearly articulated overview of earlier negotiations between the US, the Israelis and the Palestinians, beginning with early dialogue from 1985-88, and covering key and defining moments such as the Madrid Conference, the Oslo Accord, Oslo 2, and the Wye Memorandum and the Taba negotiations.

Ultimately, it seems that the purpose of the book is to illustrate the competing narratives of why Camp David failed. The Israeli narrative focused on Arafat turning down a generous Israeli offer at Camp David ?for no other reason that he had decided on staging a violent uprising instead? (p.253). The Palestinian narrative focused on the role of Ariel Sharon in the event and his provocations every time there had been any chance of calming the storm between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Helmick?s own view is that the narrative which sees Arafat as having planned to launch a violent uprising as his alternative to a peace agreement with Israel, ?stands refuted by the history we have examined? (p.290). Despite taking a decisive stand on this issue, Helmick seems to treat the broader subject matter with an empathy and compassion for the positions of all of the parties involved in the process, with one glaring omission ? that of Ariel Sharon. Helmick?s view of Ariel Sharon was of a man who ?had manipulated the Israeli public all his public life, creating panic among them by the exercise or provocation of violence any time there was a threat of progress towards resolution of the conflict? (p.199).

This book will appeal particularly to readers who like the colour and insights that ?personal experience? accounts of peace processes and negotiations have to offer since Helmick?s work takes the reader along with him on his own journey of discovery from his first meeting with Arafat in 1985 to his continuous correspondence (which he publishes in full) with many of the key players from the various American, Israeli and Palestinian administrations.

The published correspondence is surely one of the most appealing parts of the book. Helmick explains his reason for writing letters as ?it has always been my experience that, when you write a really serious letter to someone in authority?, you get a serious response? (p.11). As the book illustrates, indeed he did.


Dr Cathy Gormley-Heenan, Lecturer, University of Ulster



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