Didn't Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak make the most generous offer in history to the Palestinians? Why did they reject it?

President Clinton, understanding the difficulties and potential pitfalls that lay ahead, had promised both parties that he would not blame either side if the talks collapsed. But when the talks broke down he pointed his finger squarely at Yasir Arafat and the Palestinians. Perhaps the most widely repeated claim after Camp David was that of Barak's "generous offer" to the Palestinians. It was, we were told over and over again, the most generous offer any Israeli official had ever made.

That statement, technically, is absolutely true. It is also, however, absolutely irrelevant. The standard against which any serious diplomatic offer made by a country illegally occupying another must be viewed, is not how well it compares to earlier offers made by that same illegal occupying power. It must be judged against the requirements of international law. And from that standard, Barak's offer was far from generous. The "generous offer" was a myth.

What was more important than how generous it was compared to earlier Israeli offers, was the simple fact that, according to Clinton negotiator Robert Malley, it was simply not true that "Israel's offer met most if not all of the Palestinians' legitimate aspirations." That was the reason Palestinians rejected the offer. One can certainly question the wisdom of a diplomatic strategy that did not provide an immediate counter-proposal to an unacceptable offer. But there should be little difficulty in understanding why Palestinian negotiators would reject an offer based on a set of disconnected pieces of territory amounting to only 80 percent of the remaining 22 percent of historic Palestine; a network of roads, bridges and tunnels accessible only to Israeli settlers and permanently guarded by Israeli soldiers; permanent loss of water resources; no shared sovereignty in Jerusalem; the right of return for refugees not even up for discussion; and with 80 percent of the illegal settlers to remain in place.