Nicholas Kristof has a well-balanced

Nicholas Kristof has a piece summarizing the Clinton-era Arafat / Barak negotiations in the N.Y. Times today (registration required). His facts seem right to me — but the conclusion he draws from them is a bit squirrelly.

Kristof is backpeddling from his own previous columns in which he “sneered at Mr. Arafat and reiterated the common view that he had rejected very generous peace deals proffered by Ehud Barak.” He proceeds to walk through the peace offer put on the table by Barak and Clinton at Camp David and —more significantly — the more generous offers which followed.

But after detailing Arafat’s dithering and clear failure to grab the best deal ever offered (or, as has been widely been pointed out, offer a counterproposal), Kristol goes waffly and concludes:

“All in all, it is fair to fault Mr. Arafat for lacking the courage to strike a deal at Taba; for being a maddening, vacillating and passive negotiator; for condoning violence that unseated the best Israeli peace partner the Palestinians could have had. But the common view in the West that Mr. Arafat flatly rejected a reasonable peace deal, and that it is thus pointless to attempt a strategy of negotiation, is a myth.”

Hmmm. Lacks courage — check. Refused to accept last reasonable offer — check. “Maddening, vacilating, and passive negotiator” — check. Supports violence when negotiation doesn’t go to his liking — check.

What, exactly, would make Arafat a poor negotiating partner? I’d tend to agree that calling negotiation “pointless” is an overstatement — certainly at the very least from a cynical realpolitik perspective. But going into it with any illusions that Arafat is a rational partner in the process is simple stupidity.

Stick to those guns, Nick.