shattered dreams of peace [home page]
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Produced and Directed by
Dan Setton and Tor Ben Mayor

Executive Producer
Zvi Dor-Ner


ANNOUNCER: During the last week, the Mideast crisis boiled over again- more suicide bombings, Israeli reoccupation of Palestinian towns. Then the American president set forth his vision for peace.

    Pres. GEORGE W. BUSH: My vision is two states living side by side in peace and security.

ANNOUNCER: But Palestinians and Israelis have tried before.

    SHLOMO BEN AMI, Israeli Foreign Minister, 2000-2001: We are talking here about the toughest and most sensitive issues that humankind had ever dealt with.

ANNOUNCER: Can the issues ever be resolved? Will the violence ever stop?

    SAEB EREKAT, Palestinian Chief Negotiator: At the end of the day, I know Palestinians and Israelis can make peace. My heart aches because I know we were so close.

ANNOUNCER: Tonight FRONTLINE examines why the dreams of peace have remained so elusive.



NARRATOR: Spring, 2002. The cycle of violence between Israelis and Palestinians isspiraling out of control. Hundreds are killed on both sides. For several weeks, it is war. But only nine years earlier, everything looked different.

In 1993, the Oslo peace accords were signed on the White House lawn.

    ITZHAK RABIN, Israeli Prime Minister, 1992-1995: Ladies and gentlemen, the time for peace has come.

NARRATOR: Palestinians and Israelis agree "It is time to put an end to decades of confrontation and conflict" and "strive to live in peaceful co-existence and mutual dignity and security and achieve a lasting peace."

Soon Israel begins its withdrawal, as promised. Jericho and Gaza are transferred to the Palestinians. Yasser Arafat - Israel's implacable enemy for 30 years - returns from exile to establish the Palestinian Authority.

The parties had agreed that the core issues - permanent borders, settlements, Palestinian refugees and Jerusalem - would be addressed later.

In an atmosphere infused with hope, Prime Minister Rabin, his foreign minister, Shimon Peres, and Chairman Arafat are awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

    YASSER ARAFAT, Chairman, Palestinian Authority: [October 14, 1994] [subtitles] Once again, I congratulate my partners in peace, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, for winning the Nobel Prize for Peace.

NARRATOR: But not everyone embraces the peace process. Some Palestinians want to destroy Israel, not live side by side with it. And some Israelis mistrust Arafat and believe that all of ancient Judea and Samaria - the West Bank - should be theirs. To them, Rabin's policy of exchanging land for peace is anathema.

    Prime Minister YITZHAK RABIN, et al: [singing] [subtitles] Sing a song of peace. Do not whisper a prayer-

NARRATOR: Then, on November 4, 1995, following a peace rally in Tel Aviv, Prime Minister Rabin is assassinated by a Jewish extremist. Two days after the assassination, heads of state arrive from around the globe to mourn Yitzhak Rabin. They come to pay tribute to the man who, as a general, had once conquered Jerusalem and the West Bank, and later, as a statesman, had chosen the path of peace.

For most Arab leaders, this is the first time they have ever set foot in Israel.

    KING HUSSEIN, Jordan: You lived as a soldier, you died as a soldier for peace. And I believe it is time for all of us to come out openly and to speak our piece.

    Pres. BILL CLINTON: Today, my fellow citizens of the world, I ask all of you to take a good hard look at this picture. Look at the leaders from all over the Middle East and around the world who have journeyed here today for Yitzhak Rabin and for peace. Let me say to the people of Israel: Even in your hour of darkness, his spirit lives on. Your prime minister was a martyr for peace, but he was a victim of hate.

NARRATOR: Yasser Arafat, Rabin's partner in peace, does not attend the funeral - for security reasons - and watches from his home in Gaza.

YASSER ARAFAT: It was very, very difficult and painful for me personally. But the most important thing for the Palestinians and for the Israelis and for the whole Middle East area is to return back to protect the peace of the brave which I had signed with my partner Rabin and to live together as we had decided.

NARRATOR: Shimon Peres, Rabin's deputy and foreign minister and the chief architect of Oslo, now takes up the reins of government. As a young man, he had been charged with preparing Israel for war and had fathered Israel's nuclear program. Now, at 72, he faces the challenge of keeping the peace.

URI SAVIR, Israeli Negotiator: I spent a lot of time with Shimon Peres in these days. He was under a state of grief, deep personal grief, of deep personal loss. I remember driving with him that night of the assassination to Jerusalem, and he didn't speak all the way except for saying, "Now I am alone."

NARRATOR: A month after Rabin was killed, Peres and Arafat meet to reaffirm their commitment to the Oslo accords. Israel would release a thousand Palestinian prisoners and withdraw from five major Palestinian cities. Reconciliation seems closer than ever.

But within the Israeli opposition, these concessions are seen as a dangerous strategic mistake.

SHIMON PERES, Israeli Prime Minister, 1995-1996: I listen to politicians talking about strategy and strategy and strategy. The real choice, profound choice, is never a strategic one, it's an ethic one. There is something above strategy, and this is the moral choice. It is there where peace and war begins. It is there where the life of people are being decided.

SAEB EREKAT, Palestinian Chief Negotiator: You know, I remember Shimon Peres, a friend of mine, Shimon Peres. When I negotiated with him and I get frustrated and angry, he used to tell me: Saeb, negotiating and frustration for five years, is cheaper than exchanging bullets between us for five minutes. He's right.

NARRATOR: The Palestinian people rejoice. The negotiations had led to Israel's withdrawal from the major population centers of the West Bank, handing control to Arafat's authority.

JIBRIL RAJUB, Head of Palestinian Security, West Bank: When we entered Jenin first, I remember, I said, "Now we are in the true and real process towards having our own independent state." The feeling of the people, the way that the people received the Palestinian authority, was a proof to the new era, a new situation, a new history that we were building with the Israelis.

NARRATOR: The transfer of power is peaceful. The Palestinians carefully put away the Israeli flag and begin flying their own.

SAEB EREKAT: You know, we have the most important thing that happened in the last five years- the withdrawal from Jenin, Tulkarem, Nablus, Qalqilya, Ramallah, Bethlehem, the withdrawal from the Church of the Nativity, the place of Jesus' birth- that made me so proud and that made me hopeful.

NARRATOR: But other voices oppose any compromise with Israel. An Islamic fundamentalist organization called Hamas gained power among Palestinians by controlling the mosques and providing food and education to the poor.

    RALLY SPEAKER: [subtitles] We will invade Palestine and drive out the Zionists, the oppressors, the rapists. And the only way is the way of the gun! This is the only way! This is the only way!

JIBRIL RAJUB: Hamas were in a difficult situation. They never believed in any kind of understanding or agreement with the Israelis, and all the time they were trying to spoil everything.

NARRATOR: The military wing of Hamas, Izadin-el-Kasam is already responsible for scores of Israeli deaths. It is dedicated to the destruction of Israel through a campaign of terror, especially suicide bombings. Yehiya Ayash is its chief bombmaker and number one on Israel's "Most Wanted" list.

SHIMON PERES: I went to Arafat, I told him, "Ayash is in Gaza. Please put your hand on him. Put him in prison." He told me, "Mr. Peres" - or, as he called me, "Your Excellency" all the time - "I am telling you that he's not in Gaza." I told him, "Look, he is in Gaza, and he's planning more attacks." Arafat repeated, "I am telling you," he says, "I am sure that he's not in Gaza."

NARRATOR: But he is, and Israel takes matters into its own hands. On January 5, 1996, Ayash receives a call on his mobile phone. It is his last. The phone, packed with explosives, kills him instantly.

Ayash is declared a shaheed, a holy martyr. And a thousand others vow to follow in his footsteps.

    PALESTINIAN DEMONSTRATORS: [subtitles] In spirit, in blood we shall redeem you, Ayash!

NARRATOR: Amid this unrest the Palestinian authority holds its first elections, as required by the Oslo accords. An Arafat victory would endorse the peace process. Hamas calls for a boycott of the elections in protest.

Arafat wins an overwhelming victory. His mandate to pursue peace is stronger than ever.

But for Hamas, peace with Israel is sacrilege.

    PALESTINIAN DEMONSTRATORS: [subtitles] The followers of Ayash vow to avenge!

NARRATOR: At a memorial for Yehiya Ayash, 10 new "Living shaheeds" - suicide bombers - are presented. Two weeks later, they strike. Israel is shattered by three suicide attacks, leaving 46 dead and hundreds wounded.

Fear, sorrow and anger permeate Israeli society.

    ISRAELI DEMONSTRATORS: [subtitles] Peres resign! Peres resign!

NARRATOR: Many Israelis believe that if Arafat cannot control terrorists, they should not be negotiating with him. The peace process and its principle advocate, Shimon Peres, come under increasing attack.

URI SAVIR: I arrived and I saw Shimon Peres, whom I hadn't seen for 10 days, about 10 years older.

SHIMON PERES: It wasn't an easy experience. They called me traitor. They called me killer or murderer.

    ISRAELI DEMONSTRATORS: [subtitles] In blood and in fire we shall drive Peres out!

SHIMON PERES: The loneliness is when you face hatred and when you face agitation. And you know in your heart that this is unfair, but those are your people.

    ISRAELI DEMONSTRATORS: [subtitles] Death to the Arabs! Death to the Arabs!

NARRATOR: The next day, another suicide bomber, this time in a Tel Aviv mall, killing 13 and wounding 157 more. All of the dead are under 17 years old.

SAEB EREKAT: Everything was crumbling, people killed in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. It was also an attempt to further stab the peace process.

NARRATOR: Arafat orders his security forces to move against the Islamic militants.

ISRAEL HASSON, Israeli Security Service: [through interpreter] They arrested Hamas leaders. Some 2,000 were arrested, 2000 people were sitting in jail. Hamas saw it as the most intense blow to their organization. This showed how well the security coordination between us and the Palestinians could work.

SHIMON PERES: They killed, I think, 20 of the leaders of the different groups. They have discovered the archives, but it was too late.

    ISRAELI DEMONSTRATORS: [subtitles] Bibi to power! Bibi to power!

NARRATOR: Israeli opposition to the peace process coalesces around Benjamin Netanyahu, a brilliant orator who speaks to Israel's fears.

    BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, Israeli Prime Minister, 1996-1999: [campaign rally] [subtitles] We are here ... to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state ... that bloody man, Arafat, continues to call for a jihad against the state of Israel-

NARRATOR: As the new leader of the conservative Likud Party, Netanyahu is poised to challenge Peres and his Labor Party in the upcoming election.

[March 13, 1996]

NARRATOR: Fearing the defeat of Shimon Peres and the demise of the peace process, Egypt and the United States, in an unprecedented move, convene world leaders in the Sinai resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh.

OSAMA EL-BAZ, Adviser to President Mubarak: President Mubarak contacted President Clinton and then he contacted Arab leaders, and he thought that it was important, it was vital for saving the peace process to get all these people together.

URI SAVIR, Israeli Negotiator: For the first time ever, there was the creation of an anti-terror coalition, with empathy towards Israel having lost people against Arabs fighting.

NARRATOR: They call it the "Summit of Peacemakers" and hope it will influence the Israeli electorate to support Peres.

SAEB EREKAT: Everybody gathered in Sharm el-Sheikh. They wanted Peres to win the election.

NARRATOR: And it is this image they hope will do it.

    INTERVIEWER: What do you tell Hamas tonight?

    YASSER ARAFAT: That they are not only doing these terrorist activities against the Israelis, it is against the Palestinians, against the peace process, against the Arabs, against the whole region. And it is against God.

    Pres. BILL CLINTON: Sharm el-Sheikh was a beginning. The Middle East is changing. We must not, we will not, let terror reverse history.

    VOICE ON LOUDSPEAKER: [subtitles] Leave the car or it will explode on you!

    RESCUERS: [subtitles] Get him out! Get him out!

NARRATOR: Just six weeks before the elections, violence erupts along Israel's northern border. Hezbullah - the radical Shi'ite movement based in Lebanon that shares Hamas's disdain for the peace process - fires missiles into Israeli villages and towns.

AMNON SHAHAK, Israeli Chief of Staff, 1995-1998: [through interpreter] Hezbullah created a situation in the north that was, in my opinion, unbearable. The state of Israel could not do nothing. A reaction was necessary.

NARRATOR: Israel launches a massive bombardment of Hezbullah bases in Southern Lebanon.

And then, on April 18th, 1996, in a case of mistaken targeting, Israeli artillery hits a United Nations compound near the village of Kana, where civilians seek shelter from the attacks. One hundred and two men, women and children are killed. That same afternoon, Peres and Arafat are in the midst of a press conference about security coordination when a military aide brings Peres the tragic news.

URI SAVIR: I took the helicopter with Amnon Shahak, and we didn't speak one word. Shahak was very depressed because this was something he had feared. I looked down at the seashore of Israel, knowing that everything would change.

    ISRAELI ARAB DEMONSTRATORS: [subtitles] The prime minister is a war criminal!

NARRATOR: Israeli Arabs are outraged. They had been among the most fervent supporters of Peres and his Labor Party, but now they turn against him.

AHMED TIBI, Israeli Arab, Adviser to Arafat: We are not only Israeli citizens. The very prominent factor of us is Arab Palestinians. We cannot see this kind of massacres. We can punish. We would like to punish Labor Partyleaders or the leaders of this country, when they are committing this kind of crimes against us.

NARRATOR: The punishment comes when Israeli Arabs, 20 percent of the population, call for a boycott of the election.

    CAMPAIGN JINGLE: [subtitles] Netanyahu, making a secured peace-

[May 19, 1996]

NARRATOR: When the votes are counted, Netanyahu has defeated Peres by a mere one half of 1 percent. The Israeli Arab boycott made the difference.

    PERES SUPPORTERS: [subtitles] We love you, Peres!

    SHIMON PERES: [subtitles] Thank you. I love you, too.

NARRATOR: Netanyahu, Israel's youngest prime minister ever at 47, now faces a dilemma. He's obliged to implement the Oslo accords, agreements that he and much of his Likud Party oppose.

SAEB EREKAT: The whole world meets in order to prevent Netanyahu's election, and then, once he is in office, these same people come to you and started to- "Look, he is a pragmatic person. He's not ideologically committed. You can make peace with him. Give him a chance. Don't rush into conclusions. Don't"- and I raised my eyes and say, "What?"

AHMED TIBI: I told the chairman that he is very radical. I said then that I'm notsure that he is recognizing the Palestinians as a people, as a nation, and he is focusing only on the Palestinians as a terror issue.

YASSER ARAFAT: The Likud Party, not to forget it, that they were, the majority of them - not all of them, but a big section of them - were against Oslo agreement.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: I thought it was important to lay down the ground rules so Arafat would know exactly where I was coming from. Two thirds of the public supported Oslo at the time. The international community supported it. They really thought that Arafat meant peace. I didn't think that he meant peace. And I said I would honor it under two conditions: One, that Arafat honor it, the second was that I would reduce the dangers in Oslo, reduce the withdrawals, reduce the price that Israel would have to pay.

TERJE LARSEN, United Nations Special Envoy: After the election, Mr. Abu Mazen was brought secretly to Tel Aviv. He came alone with the head of the security- Palestinian security forces, Mr. Mohammed Dahlan. And the two gentlemen simply said the following: "You have to help us. We don't know anybody in this new regime. We have to start a dialogue with them, and we should start immediately."

NARRATOR: When the negotiators meet at Arafat's compound early in 1997, the Israeli delegation is made up of fresh Netanyahu appointees from the Likud Party.

DORE GOLD, Israeli Negotiator: We walk into his living room and we sit down, and I see in front of me a whole group of different PLO advisers, officials, security men, all sitting around the living room. Two of us are sitting on the other side. The PLO spokespeople say to us, "The last time we came this close to somebody from a Likud government, it was on the outskirts of Beirut, but these were very different circumstances."

SAEB EREKAT: The first thing, you know, Dore Gold wanted to do that night is to change the agreement signed, OK?

YASSER ABED RABBO, Palestinian Negotiator: This was the very distressing beginning we had with the Netanyahu government. At the end of this meeting, Arafat was sure that there will be a real crisis with this government.

NARRATOR: Three months after the election, the peace process is stalled. The American secretary of state, Warren Christopher, is sent to Jerusalem to pressure Netanyahu to meet with Arafat. Christopher is persuasive. The next month, Arafat and Netanyahu meet at the Erez border crossing between Gaza and Israel. The meeting is fraught with tension, as Netanyahu sits across from the very man he'd condemned as a terrorist only a few months earlier.

But their handshake - though largely ceremonial - is still a symbol of hope.

[ Read analyses of the peace process]

SAEB EREKAT: Benjamin Netanyahu, I remember two things he said to President Arafat very clearly. The first thing he said- "We should have met a long time ago." And the second thing he said- "We will make it, Mr. Chairman. We will make it together, Mr. Chairman. We will make peace, Mr. Chairman."

NARRATOR: The harmony is short-lived, disrupted by events in the Old City of Jerusalem. In an area extremely sensitive to both Muslims and Jews - where the Al Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount sits above the Western Wall - Netanyahu changes the status quo. He opens an ancient tunnel that runs along the wall.

This action could be seen as provocative, but Netanyahu has a different explanation.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: I was actually approached by Palestinian merchants in the Via Dolorosa, who wanted me to open the tunnel wall that was abutting the Via Dolorosa. About half a million tourists a year were going through this tunnel, coming to the end, touching the Via Dolorosa, but instead of getting out there, they had to go back, make a U-turn. And the merchants said, "Why don't you open the door, and we could get the benefit of all this commerce, all this traffic."

NARRATOR: But Israeli security officers had foreseen trouble.

YITZHAK MORDECHAI, Israeli Defense Minister, 1996-1999: [through interpreter] There was a discussion in the security cabinet, and we expressed a determined opinion that at this time, it would be wrong to open the Kotel Tunnel.

ISRAEL HASSON: [through interpreter] We warned against the possible consequences of such an action.

YITZHAK MORDECHAI: [through interpreter] I got a telephone call and Bibi told me, "We opened the Kotel Tunnel." I said, "What? Why didn't you let me know in advance?"

JIBRIL RAJUB, Head of Palestinian Security, West Bank: It was not a surprise that if Mr. Netanyahu opens the tunnel, the confrontation immediately will come, as touching Jerusalem will burn everything.

NARRATOR: Radicals are quick to exploit the situation. Marwan Barghuti, one of Arafat's militia leaders, spearheads the campaign.

MARWAN BARGHUTI, Fatah Leader: We organized these demonstrations from the Bir Zeit University students and other people, and I was there. And it started at 11:00 o'clock at the morning. What's the Israelis' response? They start to shoot.

ISRAEL HASSON: [through interpreter] The soldiers were across the road, shooting at the Palestinians. Then another wave arrived, and so on, repeatedly. I saw that and said, "It's inconceivable to expect the Palestinian police with their Kalashnikov guns to just stand there. You're diminishing their authority. They will shoot back. This will not end well."

NARRATOR: For the first time since Oslo, the Palestinian police use their guns against the Israeli army.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: I gave an order to move our tank forces into striking positions all across the fronts.

NARRATOR: The violence leaves 59 Palestinians and 16 Israelis dead. Hundreds more are wounded on both sides. Only active cooperation between Palestinian and Israeli security forces brings an end to the fighting.

MARWAN BARGHUTI: Part of Palestinian leadership and Palestinian officials think that everything be achieved only by negotiations without pressure. I don't agree with that. I don't think that they really understand the situation. They don't. For your liberty, for your freedom, for your independence, you should always fight and sacrifice.

NARRATOR: In an attempt to prevent further violence and restart negotiations, Arafat and Netanyahu are summoned to Washington by President Clinton.

DENNIS ROSS, U.S. Middle East Envoy: What I was always concerned about in a case like this, where you have a cycle that takes on a life of its own, you have to find a way to give people a reason to take a step back, to pause, to think, so that things don't continue to spiral out of control. That's what was happening then, so that's why we basically came up with the thought that we would bring them here.

NARRATOR: Clinton also asks King Hussein of Jordan to join the talks.

DENNIS ROSS: Netanyahu, when he came, did not agree to anything other then a negotiating process.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: I'm a man of peace. I'm not a man of false peace. I'm not a man of suicidal peace that would say, "All right, we'll sign any peace agreement, any piece of paper, in order to say that we made peace," but at the same time, Arafat will continue the terror and continue telling his people to- that the goal is to destroy Israel.

SAEB EREKAT: It was so tense, the atmosphere. King Hussein delivered a speech very, very critical of Netanyahu. He told him - I remember that line still - "I hope that you will grow up to the wisdom and courage of Rabin."

NARRATOR: But by the end of the summit, it seems like Clinton's chemistry has worked. Netanyahu and Arafat agree to resume talks on further implementation of Oslo.

After four months of difficult negotiations, Israel agrees to withdraw from Hebron, leaving behind only a small enclave of Jewish settlers. Now Arafat will control all the major cities of the West Bank and Gaza.

    YASSER ARAFAT: [subtitles] I say this to my brothers, the shaheeds (martyrs): A promise is a promise. A vow is a vow. A promise is a promise! A vow is a vow! We will go on until we get our state!

NARRATOR: Palestinians cheer. But Jewish settlers tear their garments in a ritualistic gesture of mourning. They feel Netanyahu has betrayed them by relinquishing Hebron.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: Hebron was difficult to do because it's part of my homeland. It's part of- a place where my ancestors, the prophets and the kings of Israel and so many generations of Jews had walked on and had dreamed of coming back to. But this was an agreement ratified by Peres, and I was going to carry it out, but with one major idea. The ideawas essentially to trade the Arab part of Hebron for the rest of Judea and Samaria, or almost the rest of it.

NARRATOR: Although Jewish settlements were not mentioned specifically in Oslo, Rabin had promised no additional ones would be built. But on March 18th, 1997, Netanyahu allows construction to begin for a new settlement on a contested hill near Jerusalem.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: A commitment to unify Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty is not just from- just a cosmetic commitment. It's not just a verbal commitment. And I made it very clear that I will do it, that I was willing to face the music, and the music came.

SAEB EREKAT: Settlements to Palestinians is the equivalent to bus exploding in Tel Aviv to Israelis. That's the ultimate threat. It's land, it's future. It's people who want to- settlements are put there to stop us from having our future independent state, freedom.

NARRATOR: Tensions remain high throughout the area. In Tel Aviv, a suicide bomber explodes himself in a packed cafe on a busy Friday morning. Four months later, two suicide attacks rip through Jerusalem's main market within 10 minutes of each other. Sixteen are killed, hundreds wounded.

In response, Israel limits access in and out of Palestinian territories and enforces a strict curfew. Life in the territories becomes more and more difficult.

    PALESTINIAN WOMAN: [subtitles] If Netanyahu wanted peace, he would not be doing this to the Israeli people and the Palestinian people!

NARRATOR: To try to contain the growing crisis, the new American secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, is dispatched to the area. It's her first assignment.

    MADELEINE ALBRIGHT, U.S. Secretary of State, 1997-2000: I feel that it's important to try to make this place safer for the people who live here, and I'd like to do everything I can to do my part.

With Arafat, it took a while for me to get so that we could actually have good conversations. We had talked on the telephone shortly after I became secretary of state, and he would be so emotional that I had to hold the phone away from my ear because he would just get so bad. And then finally, we developed a way that we could actually talk with each other.

The next day, I went to a school for Palestinian students and it was, I think, of the various meetings as the secretary that I had, one of the hardest because the Palestinian students were very clear in the way they asked the questions, saying, "We don't understand what our future is," and I didn't have very good answers for them. The truth is that that meeting really stuck in my head and made me realize that I needed to learn a lot more about the Palestinians' needs.

NARRATOR: In September, three more suicide bombers strike at the heart of Jerusalem. Five Israelis are killed and over two hundred wounded, many of them teenagers. Netanyahu declares that no more land will be handed over to the Palestinians as long as terror continues.

    ISRAELI PROTESTER: [subtitles] Oslo is dead! Oslo is dead! We don't want peace. We want war!

NARRATOR: Netanyahu knows that the force behind the suicide bombers is Hamas. He orders the head of the Israeli Mossad, Danny Yetom, to eliminate a top Hamas officer who lives in Amman, Jordan. On September 25th, two Mossad agents disguised as Canadian tourists arrive in Amman. Their mission, to inject Khaled Mash'al with a chemical that will cause a fatal heart attack.

KHALED MASH'AL, Hamas Leader: [through interpreter] I was on my way to the office when two Mossad agents assaulted me from the back. One of them had a sophisticated device which discharged poison. The poison entered my skin and the substance reached my brain, and within two hours I started to feel the effects.

NARRATOR: But the Israeli plan goes awry. The Mossad agents are discovered and arrested by Jordanian authorities. Khaled Mash'al is rushed to a hospital. The affair is a major embarrassment for Netanyahu and threatens relations between Israel and Jordan.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: I must say that my memories of this are somewhat Kafkaesque because the first thing, when I learned about the failure, I wanted first of all to inform King Hussein.

ODED ERAN, Israeli Amb. to Jordan, 1997-1999: The palace was enraged. The king expressed his opinion to me, and he said, "It's like inviting a guest to my house and I find out that the guest has raped my daughter."

NARRATOR: To placate King Hussein, Netanyahu tries to save Mash'al's life.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: I sent Danny Yetom, the head of Mossad. As he was about to leave, I said, "Danny, I think you forgot something." He said, "What?" I said, "Well, the antidote to the poison."

NARRATOR: By noon, the head of the Israeli Mossad himself is on his way to save the life of a man he sought to kill only two hours earlier. Jordan also demands the release of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the founder and spiritual leader of Hamas, after nine years in an Israeli prison. It's a triumph for the extremists.

    PALESTINIAN DEMONSTRATORS: [subtitles] Yassin, raise your head. The entire Gaza strip is Hamas! Yassin, raise your head. The entire Gaza strip is Hamas! God is great!

NARRATOR: Continuing to assert Israeli control over Jerusalem, Netanyahu allows Jewish settlers to buy and occupy houses within Arab sections of the city, once again changing the status quo. Palestinians demonstrating against Jewish settlers are joined by groups of Israelis who oppose Netanyahu's policies.

    SAEB EREKAT: We hope that Mr. Netanyahu will realize that he's really pushing Palestinians and Israelis towards the cycle of violence and counter-violence.

    ISRAELI OPPOSITION DEMONSTRATORS: [subtitles] Netanyahu is bad for us all!

    [poster] Netanyahu has sold Jerusalem to the extreme right. Peace Now.

NARRATOR: Early in 1998, Ehud Barak, the leader of Israel's Labor Party, begins to challenge Netanyahu's leadership.

    EHUD BARAK, Israeli Labor Leader: [subtitles] An unsuitable man, simply not suitable. There's no other word.

[in English] I used the metaphor of the Titanic. I said, "It's clear to me that we are heading into an iceberg." And I demanded from Netanyahu government ministers to open their eyes. They will immediately see the iceberg. If we won't try seriously to solve it, at certain point, it will explode. And we will be torn from within, since at least part of our own society will believe and say that their own government is responsible.

NARRATOR: October 1998. In yet another attempt to revive the peace process, the Americans call a summit meeting at the Wye Plantation in Maryland.

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: We wanted to work on how to transfer this percentage of land from the Israelis to the Palestinians and work on some of the issues of security that the Israelis had.

NARRATOR: Prior to the summit, Israeli and Palestinian security officials had held preliminary talks on several issues, including how to cooperate to fight terrorism, collect illegal weapons and prevent the financing of terrorist cells.

    PALESTINIAN SECURITY NEGOTIATOR: [subtitles] Lots of land, with a villa! Everything for $200,000! What do you say, Israel? Lets buy it in partnership together!

DENNIS ROSS: The relationship between some on the Israeli side and some on the Palestinian side, especially the security people, was an extraordinary relationship. They got along very well. And I often used to say the security people could talk to each other the way that nobody else talked to each other. And it was true.

NARRATOR: The security agreement is presented to the leadership for final approval. But Netanyahu reopens the package.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: I'm a very tough negotiator, and I'm coming with a specific purpose. My goal was to have a very measured agreement that all the time forces Arafat to pay for what he gets. The reciprocity list of 10 major commitments, I think it was, was fleshed out in very great detail- security, the work plan on security, the people to be jailed, in what order and what sequence, how it would be monitored, the collection of weapons, the cessation of propaganda against Israel and the creation of monitoring a committee which will include- tripartite: Israeli, American and Palestinians, and so on. We put real meat on this.

NARRATOR: Netanyahu also insists that provisions in the PLO charter which call for the destruction of Israel be rescinded.

An active participant at the talks is Ariel Sharon. An ardent opponent of Oslo, Sharon was appointed foreign minister and a delegate to the Wye meetings only one day before the talks began.

MADELINE ALBRIGHT: Sharon was kind of watching over whether Netanyahu would move forward on something or not. One of the things that President Clinton tried to do was to get the parties together in various ways. Sharon came to one of these dinners, and he would not shake hands with Arafat. Arafat wanted to, and Sharon did not shake hands with him.

NARRATOR: The trust that had developed between the security officials does not carry over to the politicians.

DANNY NAVEH, Israeli Negotiator: [through interpreter] We did not get clear answers from Arafat about his willingness to fulfill his part, especially regarding the elimination of terror, arresting terrorists, dismantling the infrastructure, collecting the weapons and stopping the incitement. We did not get answers.

NARRATOR: Netanyahu is unwilling to compromise on security. Six days into the meeting, he orders his delegation to pack its bags.

SAEB EREKAT: I went back to President Arafat and told him, "They're leaving." And President Arafat said, "I knew it. He doesn't want peace. He doesn't want an agreement. He doesn't want anything."

MADELINE ALBRIGHT: All the suitcases were set out outside. We heard that they had asked to get the cars and helicopters ready to leave.

DENNIS ROSS: The secretary said to me, you know, "What do you think we should do?" I said, "Order the plane for them." I said, "It's a game." I said, "If someone is serious about leaving, they don't go through the show of putting their luggage out."

YASSER ARAFAT: No, it was clear and obvious that they want to squeeze me and to squeeze the Palestinian delegation. But the tide have passed, and they came back to the negotiations.

NARRATOR: To no one's surprise, it takes little persuasion by the Americans to get the Israelis to unpack their bags. It is also Netanyahu's 49th birthday.

    BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: [subtitles] I've had better days.

    Very kind. It suits a bridegroom, or a Bar Mitzvah.

NARRATOR: Flowers are delivered from Arafat, who follows up with a personal phone call.

    BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: [to Arafat on phone] Mr. Chairman, you're very kind. Thank you. On a personal basis, it is very, very much appreciated. Inshallah! I think if we work together, we can do more than with the intermediaries. But whatever happens, Mr. Chairman, I very much appreciate this, and I shall remember it. Thank you. Bye-bye.

NARRATOR: The next day, President Clinton thrusts his full weight behind the negotiations. After a marathon 21-hour session, the sides agree to what becomes known as the Wye accords.

MADELINE ALBRIGHT: It really did show what can happen when a president with the kind of knowledge that Bill Clinton had on this issue, and an understanding of both sides, and his ability to listen and then to kind of take the issues out of the box and rearrange them- that there is a role for an American president who- to bring the parties together.

NARRATOR: Then, when everything seems to be going well, Netanyahu demands the release of American-born Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard. Securing his release would help Netanyahu with his right wing back home.

SAEB EREKAT, Palestinian Chief Negotiator: At 4:30 or 5:30 in the morning, as we were concluding, I hear voices. And then I see that there was, you know, finger-pointing between President Clinton and Netanyahu.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: Everything was more or less finished, ready to be concluded and signed. And I had met the president, and I said, "Well, what about Pollard? When will he be released?" And he explained that he could not carry out his promise because he had a threat of mass resignations in his defense establishment.

DENNIS ROSS: The two of them had a very different impression of their conversation. I recall talking to Danny Naveh and Itzhak Moho afterwards, when I went down to see them, when we were stuck, in the morning. And I said, "Look, one thing is clear. You can't hold up the whole agreement on Pollard. It won't be understandable. It won't be understandable in this country because no one will see the relationship. And even in Israel, you will be sacrificing an agreement that is heavily focused on Israeli security for the sake of Pollard. It's not tenable. You can't do it."

And what they said to me was, "Bibi's in a very difficult political situation because he was counting on this to be able to sell the agreement."

MADELINE ALBRIGHT: Netanyahu, in the end, made a very important decision. After a lot of difficulty, he really- I think we all felt a sense of admiration for him when we arrived at the White House for the signing ceremony.

    Pres. BILL CLINTON: This agreement is designed to rebuild trust and renew hope for peace between the parties. Now both sides must build on that hope, carry out their commitments, begin the difficult but urgent journey toward a permanent settlement.

YASSER ARAFAT: It was very important. No doubt. And not Netanyahu alone, Netanyahu and Sharon. They were together there. In the end, both of us accepted the agreement.

NARRATOR: The Wye agreement allows for the construction of an international airport for the Palestinians in the Gaza strip. It opens on November 24th, 1998.

Israel agrees to pull back its forces from an additional 13 per cent of the West Bank. But only about half of this would be done.

Israel also agrees to release 750 Palestinian prisoners without blood on their hands. But only 250 would be released.

The Palestinian authority agrees to combat terrorist organizations, to arrest those involved in terrorist activities and to collect all illegal weapons and explosives. But in fact, little or none of this would be done.

[ More about the Wye agreement]

Seven weeks after the Wye meetings, in an extraordinary gesture, President Clinton comes to Gaza to lend his prestige to the implementation of portions of the agreement. It is seen as a state visit, affording Arafat and the Palestinian authority de facto national recognition.

    YASSER ARAFAT: [subtitles] Now and in the presence of his excellency, the president of the United States, and in accordance with our understanding from Wye River, I ask you all to raise your hands.

NARRATOR: In Clinton's presence, the Palestinian National Council takes a historic step. They vote to rescind the clause in the PLO charter that calls for the destruction of the state of Israel.

DENNIS ROSS: It was a stunning moment. They raised their hands and they stood up, still holding up their hands, just to be sure no one- everyone could see that their hands were raised. And three quarters of that audience responded. And this sort of brought into focus this incredible sense that here is the beginning of genuine reconciliation. Here is the beginning of those who have rejected the very idea of peace, understanding this is over. It's passed.

NARRATOR: But it is not to be. The very extremists Arafat is supposed to control stage violent protests against the recognition of Israel. And in Israel, the very people that had brought Netanyahu into power see the handover of more territory as an act of betrayal and begin to work for his downfall.

On January 4th, 1999, the Knesset convenes in an extraordinary session to decide the future of the government. Netanyahu has a hard time making his case.

    BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: [subtitles] Mr. Chairman, in the first weeks since the Wye agreements, the Palestinians began to carry out their commitments-

    KNESSET MEMBER: [subtitles] That's not what you said before! I demand that the prime minister speaks the truth to the Knesset!

NARRATOR: Over two thirds of the members of the Knesset - from all across the political spectrum - rebuke Netanyahu and call for new elections. Opposing Netanyahu is Labor Party head Ehud Barak, a former chief of staff, Israel's most decorated military hero and a disciple of the late Yitzhak Rabin. He runs on a platform of peace and reconciliation with the Palestinians.

    ISRAELI PEACE DEMONSTRATORS: [singing] [subtitles] Go away darkness, for light is coming.

    BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: [subtitles] And I will tell you why they try so hard now. They do it for one reason only. They are afraid! [leading chant] They are afraid! They are afraid! They are afraid!

NARRATOR: On May 17th, 1999, Ehud Barak wins a landslide victory, becoming Israel's 14th prime minister.

    EHUD BARAK: [subtitles] I came here to Rabin Square, to the place where our hearts were broken, where a big stone blocked the gate when we were about to enter a new era. I came here to promise you, citizens of Israel, and you, my friend and commander, Yitzhak Rabin, that this is truly the dawn of a new day.

[in English] I felt great, and at the same time, very moving because it was clear to methat I am about to continue the legacy of Rabin that had been cut at this very place a very short time ago. It was clear to me that we have a major interest in trying to disengage ourselves, to separate ourselves from the Palestinians, to have two states for two nations. And it was clear to me that without taking active steps, it will erupt. You cannot stretch this reigning over another people for another generation.

SAEB EREKAT: That night, we just went through the stream of 1996 till 1999, Netanyahu's years, Sharon's years, Mordechai's years. And we are getting out of this? Ouf!

NARRATOR: In a deeply symbolic act, Barak pays his first official visit to Egypt, the most powerful Arab state and one that has been at peace with Israel for over two decades. Barak also wants to enlist Egypt's help in advancing the peace process.

OSAMA EL-BAZ, Adviser to President Mubarak: He said that he is determined to work for peace and that he has the support of the people, and he- although he was not quiet confident of the intentions of the Palestinian authority and Chairman Arafat, but we told him that we will be with him on the peace process. We'll help. We'll mediate.

    HOSNI MUBARAK, President of Egypt: Good morning. Welcome, Prime Minister Ehud Barak. I know him before. I have great hopes in the prime minister's offices, and we are looking forward. But you have to give him some time to make the reshaping of the situation to come to the very practical solution. I wish you good health and good progress in the peace process, which all the people are waiting for that. Thank you.

NARRATOR: While his mandate is strong, Barak wants to push for a permanent agreement quickly, skipping the interim redeployments called for in the Wye accords. He envisions a two-state solution that will finally put an end to the conflict.

On July 11th, he flies to the Erez crossing on the Israel-Gaza border for his first official meeting with the Palestinian leadership.

    NEGOTIATOR: [subtitles] Another round. But I think we'll finish this time. There is no other time, no second chance. We'll work day and night if we have to, but we'll reach the end.

SAEB EREKAT: I remember Barak said, "Great leaders will make tough decisions, courageous decisions. It's we who will make these decisions for your generation and for my generation."

NARRATOR: The Palestinians expect to obtain a commitment from Barak to immediately implement the long-delayed third redeployment.

SAEB EREKAT: And then Barak jumped to say, "We don't need to waste our time on little issues. We don't need to concentrate on the third phase of the third redeployment. We should go at it to get the whole thing done." And at that moment of history, the third phase of the third redeployment constituted the most cardinal point in Palestinian politics, in Palestinian thinking, in Palestinian relations with the Israelis.

But President Arafat was so much touched negatively by Barak at that first meeting.

EHUD BARAK: I told him, "Let us suggest an alternative. There is nothing to win by stretching the conflicts of another generation. We will have to bury our, they will have to bury their dead, and we will end up with the same topography, the same demography, the same problems on the table and open a way toward Kosovo, Belfast-type situation, which we don't need."

    [on the phone] [subtitles] Look, the problem is not the atmosphere, but the details. You should correct him on the details. I'm not against it. On the contrary, I'm all for it.

    GILEAD SHER, Israeli Negotiator: OK.

NARRATOR: Gilead Sher is Israel's new principal negotiator. It's now his turn to work with Saeb Erekat, who has headed the Palestinian delegation since the process began. Sher represents the fourth Israeli administration Erekat has had to deal with.

GILEAD SHER: Our first meeting was a meeting of setting our minds together into the possibility of concluding peace agreements with our neighbors.

    SAEB EREKAT: I sense the level of trust developing between us, and I hope that this trust will go to the level of Mr. Barak and President Arafat.

GILEAD SHER: When you talk eye to eye with your interlocutor, with your counterpart, and when he knows after a couple of times that even the most difficult thing that you have to tell him is done with sincerity, you never lie to him, then you gain his confidence. And Erekat knows it.

    SAEB EREKAT: I hope that one day very soon, within a year, we can have a Palestinian state next to Israel. And this is not a dream now. It's a fact. I hope that once I get to this point here - because that's what was the separating line of 1967 - I hope that I will go to my Israeli friends and present my passport at this entrance here, going to East Jerusalem from West Jerusalem.

NARRATOR: After five weeks of negotiations, they've agreed on a framework and timetable for the final peace agreement. The Palestinian and Israeli delegations assemble in Egypt, at Sharm el-Sheikh, to celebrate the fruits of Erekat and Sher's efforts.

GILEAD SHER: It's the first time we could have felt the hope in the air, in Jolie Ville, this hotel in Sharm el-Sheik.

NARRATOR: It seems the peace process is back on track. As a confidence-building measure, Israel agrees to release 350 security prisoners in two phases. The Palestinians, for their part, agree to enforce the existing security understandings.

Then suddenly, the very next day, three suicide bombers strike in Haifa and Tiberia. Miraculously, only the bombers themselves are killed.

    PALESTINIAN GIRL: [subtitles] Daddy! Thank God you're OK!

NARRATOR: Despite the terror attacks, Barak releases 199 Palestinian prisoners, as planned.

[December 15, 1999]

    ANNOUNCER: The president of the United States, accompanied by the prime minister of Israel and the foreign minister of Syria.

NARRATOR: Barak now shifts his attention away from the Palestinians to Syria, Israel's long-time enemy to the north.

    Pres. BILL CLINTON: Good morning. For the first time in history, there is a chance of a comprehensive peace between Israel and Syria, and indeed all its neighbors. We'll do everything we possibly can to help the parties succeed, for a comprehensive peace in the Middle East is vital not only to the region, it is also vital to the world.

NARRATOR: But after two months of effort, the talks between Israel and Syria break down. All the while, Arafat has been suspicious of Barak's overtures to the Syrians, concerned that a deal with Syria will ease the pressure on Barak to compromise with the Palestinians.

YASSER ARAFAT: Any agreement with any Arab countries will not stop us. But he used it to lose time.

SAEB EREKAT: We're looking around us, asking who are our counterparts on the Israel side for the interim negotiations and for the permanent status negotiations.

[ Read his interview]

NARRATOR: Land and the settlements - still expanding under Barak - become the main issues when negotiations resume. What will happen to the 180,000 Israeli settlers in the West Bank and Gaza? How much land will the Israelis cede to the Palestinians? How much land will they want to keep?

YASSER ABED RABBO, Palestinian Negotiator: The settlement policies continued. We were supposed to start talking about the future of the land, and our counterpart, the Israeli, was determining unilaterally, through the confiscation of land, the future of this land.

NARRATOR: Israeli negotiator Oded Eran asks Barak to present the Palestinians with a map to show how they propose to divide the West Bank.

ODED ERAN, Israeli Negotiator: He agreed, and I was authorized to show the Palestinians a scheme. It wasn't a map, it was just a general outline.

DENNIS ROSS: The Palestinians had constantly been saying, "We need to see a map. We need to see a map." Oded had not been allowed to show a map by Barak. He was allowed to show a drawing, basically. And what happened here was, what the Palestinians saw, was an approach that basically would have, in their mind, carved up the West Bank.

    YASSER ABED RABBO: -cutting West Bank into three. Even inside each one of these small cantons, there will be holes of settlements. So if this is the situation, they know that we will not accept it. We will not accept it at all.

ODED ERAN: They were enraged. They were really, really angry. And one of them opened a barrage of almost 10 minutes of cursing in Arabic and in English and in Hebrew. The Palestinians walked away from the room.

DENNIS ROSS: And I went to them andI said, "You want to be angry with him? Fine. You don't like what he presented? It's fine. But you don't walk out on me. You walked out on me. You want me to be here for the negotiations, you stay in the negotiations."

YASSER ABED RABBO: Dennis Ross said, "Why did you leave? I was going to ask questions about it." OK, you can ask me questions by letter, but not in front of us. And what kind of questions? He said, "One question I wanted to ask is why the Israeli area here is so big, why it's not smaller." "Thank you very much for this question. Keep this question for yourself. I will not accept this question even to be asked in my presence."

NARRATOR: Meanwhile, a secret negotiation in Stockholm deals with another contentious issue, the Palestinian refugees, three million displaced people who demand the right to return, a number equaling roughly half the population of Israel. Their return would alter the nature of the Jewish state.

SHLOMO BEN AMI, Israeli Foreign Minister, 2000-2001: We felt that we were making progress. We were managing to turn the highly emotional and historically awesome problem into a mechanism. We were differing about numbers. We said that Israel will be ready to absorb a minimal number - in fact, a symbolic number - of refugees, but only within a scheme of family reunification, humanitarian purposes.

ABU ALA, Palestinian Negotiator: I know how difficult it is for them, but they should know how it is difficult for us. We cannot go for any agreement supported by half of our people or less than half of our people. An agreement should be supported from the majority of the Palestinian people. And without solving the refugee problem, there will be no agreement.

NARRATOR: The refugee problem would continue to haunt the negotiations. Meanwhile, Barak moves to fulfill a campaign promise and end Israel's 22-year occupation of southern Lebanon. He had hoped to do it as part of an agreement with Syria, but now he decides to act unilaterally. Under cover of darkness, Israeli forces withdraw.

Hezbullah, the Shi'ite Muslim fundamentalist militia that had been fighting the Israeli army in Lebanon for years, sees Israel's flight as a massive victory. A few ill-armed guerrillas have made the mighty Israeli army retreat.

Many Palestinians now believe they, too, can achieve their aims by fighting rather than negotiating.

MOHAMMED DAHLAN, Palestinian Security Chief, Gaza: [through interpreter] The minute the Palestinian people see your soldiers running away and allowing the Lebanese to liberate themselves, they ask, "Why don't we do it their way?"

URI SAVIR, Israeli Negotiator: Abu Ala came to see me and he said, "With us, the Israelis negotiated a deal. Four years we gave them security, killed Palestinians in cooperation with them for Israeli security, and virtually got nothing except a postponed redeployment, in terms of land. Hezbullah killed Israeli soldiers, and now they are measuring the [unintelligible] of June '67 line." He says, "the message to every Palestinian will be clear: Kill and get the land."

    PALESTINIAN DEMONSTRATORS: [subtitles] Hezbullah is the way!

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: We were very worried that violence would come, and we wanted to avoid it. And maybe by going into the permanent status issues, we were going be able to do that.

DENNIS ROSS: Arafat said, "I want them to deliver things to me. Don't talk about resolving everything." So we focused on trying to create a package of things that would allow us to address Arafat's concerns, on the one hand, and pave the way to a summit on the other.

NARRATOR: At home, Barak faces intense political pressure. He is under fire for his lack of success with Syria, for his withdrawal from Lebanon, and for being ineffectual with the Palestinians. He urges President Clinton to hold a summit to resolve everything once and for all.

GADI BALTIANSKY, Barak spokesman: [through interpreter] Barak's strategy before Camp David was either there will be an agreement that will bring peace and the end of the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, or it will be a failure that will lead to violent confrontation.

I remember I asked him, "What if there's only some progress, but we don't have an agreement?" Ehud Barak held a pencil in his hand. He told me, "Gadi, do you see this pencil? It stands because I'm holding it. Either we'll find a way to anchor it because there's a peace agreement, or if not, I take off my hand and the pencil falls."

NARRATOR: On July 10th, 2000, the leaders head off to a hastily-prepared summit at Camp David.

    Pres. BILL CLINTON: I am now leaving for Camp David to join Prime Minister Barak and Chairman Arafat in their effort to reach agreement on the core issues that have divided Israelis and Palestinians for half a century now. The two leaders face profound and wrenching questions, and there can be no success without principled compromise. Both leaders feel the weight of history, but both, I believe, recognize this is a moment in history which they can seize. The road to peace, as always, is a two-way street.

SAMUEL "SANDY" BERGER, U.S. Nat'l Security Adviser, 1997-2001: Camp David broke open the nut that had never been opened before, the final status issues- Jerusalem, statehood, boundaries, security, refugees. Those issues had never been discussed at senior levels between Israelis and Palestinians, and suddenly, they're sitting there out there on the table.

NARRATOR: Early in the negotiations, Israeli foreign minister Shlomo Ben Ami presents a map showing Israel's opening position.

SAEB EREKAT: They want 11 percent of the West Bank, which is the same figure I heard on June 25th in the [unintelligible]

ABU ALA: It was a shock and a big surprise to see the same map in Camp David. In Camp David, the leaders were there- Mr. Arafat, Prime Minister Barak. President Clinton is there. And to bring the same maps-

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Abu Ala didn't like what he saw, but he didn't want to talk about it, and so he got pretty angry. And then President Clinton got quite angry at him.

SHLOMO BEN AMI: He told him, "Listen, this is not the General Assembly. I didn't come here to waste my time. Let us be pragmatic. Let us put ideas on the table. Do you accept the concept of border modification? You do not have to accept the map that Mr. Ben Ami put on the table. Come with an alternative map. Negotiate. Work on the subject. Don't give speeches."

ABU ALA: President Clinton at that room, he was a mediator or a facilitator. And therefore, the mediator or the facilitator, to show any support to one side against the other, this is not fair.

NARRATOR: To break the impasse, Clinton suggests a land swap, since Israel wants to keep part of the West Bank for settlers. Arafat accepts border modification in principle, but wants other usable land in exchange.

YASSER ARAFAT: I accept, but to make swap in the value and in the area, not only to give me desert.

GILEAD SHER: Barak said, "I am ready to explore these ideas, subject to Arafat's similar acceptance."

SANDY BERGER: Prime Minister Barak was a man with great vision, but also a man who played things very close to his vest. We didn't know, going into Camp David, where Barak's bottom line was.

NARRATOR: After listening to both sides, Clinton proposes a compromise: Israel would return almost all of the West Bank and Gaza to the Palestinians, they would swap small parcels of land important to each other, and they would agree to share control of Jerusalem.

Barak uses Clinton's proposal as a starting point and suggests several changes. Arafat never replies. Barak then refuses to negotiate with him directly.

YASSER ABED RABBO: Arafat had asked in front of me three or four times, "Where is the other guy?" One of these dinners, he shook hands with Arafat in a very, I would say it bluntly, unpolite way. And when we sat at the table, he put his hands over his face, and he took his hands away from his face only to eat.

SHLOMO BEN AMI: We are talking here about the toughest and most sensitive issues that humankind had ever dealt with. It's not only nationalism, statehood, refugeeism, colonization - or settlements, as it were - holiness, sanctity, religion, Islam versus Judaism. And what holiness- Jerusalem, and not only Jerusalem, Temple Mount. Is anybody going to change his positions because of personal relations?

NARRATOR: Nine days into the summit, President Clinton has to leave for a meeting in Okinawa. And Barak, having heard nothing more from Arafat, tells his people to prepare to leave. Delegates on both sides are distraught. They fear that the collapse of the Camp David talks will lead inevitably to war.

ISRAEL HASSON, Israeli Security Service: [through interpreter] Some team members thought that we hadn't explored all the options for continuing the dialogue, and that we are about to return to the people of Israel with a negative result, when we can't honestly claim to have tried everything.

GIDI GRINSTEIN, Assistant to Gilead Sher: There was a very strong sentiment that we should stay and continue the effort. And the dramatic efforts of Clinton going back and forth between Barak and Arafat around midnight of that evening eventually led to the fact that they reach some kind of understanding that allowed us to stay in Camp David.

At that time, we were very hungry, so all of us we walked down to have a late-night dinner. When we got there, the Palestinian team was already there, and those on our side and those on the Palestinian side that felt that we should have stayed practically hugged each other. It was a very emotional moment.

NARRATOR: But in Israel, anti-Barak protests boil over, as news from Camp David hits the street. A quarter of a million people gather at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv, the largest right-wing demonstration in the history of Israel. And in the West Bank and Gaza, unrest grows among Palestinians as news spreads that land compromises are being considered.

When Clinton returns to Camp David, Jerusalem is again put on the table. Immediately there is a problem. Arafat argues that the Jews have no claim at all to the area of the Temple Mount.

YASSER ARAFAT: They had excavated everywhere, and no one single stone from the temple had been found, only some stones of Herodotus's temple.

GILEAD SHER: This is not something we invented in light of the negotiations or put as an- sort of an argument in front of our friends, the Palestinians. This is a fact.

SAEB EREKAT: The fact today that there is no such a thing as a Temple Mount in existence today. There is a mosque.

GILEAD SHER: This is the most ancient, holiest place that we have in our history. And we do not reject the Palestinians' management, administration, religious custodianship over the mosques and over the esplanade, but we do think that our proposal to have a shared sovereignty, to have a spiritual sovereignty, to have sovereignty by God, to have anything that is together.

SAEB EREKAT: We're dealing with realities. There is no such thing called "sovereignty over history." History is in our books, in our memories, OK?

[ Explore "parallel realities" of Jews/Arabs]

NARRATOR: On the last night of the talks, Clinton offers a new bridging proposal that covers all the issues, including the main stumbling block, East Jerusalem. But Arafat refuses any compromise over the Temple Mount.

DENNIS ROSS: That last night, Saeb, Shlomo Ben Ami, the president and I sat for two-and-a-half hours. And you know, we tried coming up with every conceivable approach. Saeb, to his credit, was quite honest.

SAEB EREKAT: I said to Dennis, "Look, it's not going to fly." He said, " Saeb, I'm not negotiating with you. I am asking you to carry a message to your leader and to come back with an answer."

YASSER ARAFAT: And I replied him in details about what can be done from our side which will be accepted by the Arab nation and by the Christians and by the Muslims.

YASSER ABED RABBO, Palestinian Negotiator: Arafat said clearly, "Well, look, do you want to attend my funeral?" This he said to Clinton. "You want me to be a traitor? Are you serious?"

DENNIS ROSS: The problem with Arafat at Camp David- whatever criticisms I have of Barak, Barak, in the end, was prepared to confront history and mythology, and you can't ask more of a leader than that. He was. Arafat was prepared to confront neither history nor the mythology, and he created a new mythology by saying the temple doesn't exist there. It was the only new idea he raised in 15 days at Camp David.

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Arafat, basically, for whatever reason, walked away from what is one of the best deals he could ever have. And it always brings back to mind the Abba Eban statement that the Palestinians never lose an opportunity to lose an opportunity.

NARRATOR: Arafat sees major problems. He's concerned with limits on sovereignty for the new Palestinian entity.

YASSER ARAFAT: There are some points, which if you are in my place, you will not accept it. I would give you the control of the airspace. What's the meaning of that? And also they are insisting to have big military bases with all armaments in the Jordan valley under their control. What's the meaning of that? And also, the borders between us and the Egyptians. Who can accept that?

    EHUD BARAK: [subtitles] This morning, the summit at Camp David concluded with no agreement. During the negotiations, we touched on the most sensitive issues, both ours and the Palestinians', but regrettably with no results. If we have to turn to confrontation, we'll be able to look our children in the eye and say that we have done everything to avoid conflict.

[ More on Camp David's failure]

NARRATOR: Arafat returns to a hero's welcome. In the streets, calls for an uprising - a new intifada - are heavy in the air. Despite the official demise of the talks, Arafat and Barak approve a new series of secret meetings between the negotiators.

    SAEB EREKAT: Today will be our 34th secret meetings. You're the only one who managed to get us on tape. And I believe we- this fragile peace process is the only vehicle to bring about the winners.

    The Israelis need an end of conflict from us. They need an end of claims from us. They cannot have an agreement without these two elements. These are the two cards in our hands.

    GILEAD SHER: Since Camp David, we are trying to bridge whichever gaps are still existent in the different issues on the core matters between us.

    SAEB EREKAT: There is a lack of confidence between the two leaders, lack of trust. But I don't think that either of them objects to meet the other. It's really possible.

NARRATOR: At this meeting, they agree that Arafat will visit Barak at the prime minister's private residence the next day.

GILEAD SHER: There was a meeting on the 25th of September. Barak was there. He was the host. His wife was there, Navah. And Comes Arafat with all the Palestinian leadership- Abu Ala, Nabil Shaath, Abu Mazen, Erekat. All of them there.

SHLOMO BEN AMI: We had the most congenial, friendly meeting between Palestinians and Israelis you can ever imagine, with Barak and Arafat behaving like two lovers.

GILEAD SHER: Barak and Arafat went engage and sat together with no note takers, with no- no one else present except for the two them.

SHLOMO BEN AMI: And in the middle of this delightful meeting and delightful dinner, they speak on the telephone with Clinton. And Barak says to Clinton, "I am going to be the partner of this man in a way better than Rabin did it."

GILEAD SHER: They've kind of blessed us, us negotiators. "Go with Allah and make the agreement. Make it possible. Do it, and we'll come and sign."

NARRATOR: At the end of the evening, Arafat makes a request of Barak, that Ariel Sharon, the head of Israel's right-wing party, be denied permission to visit the Temple Mount, as he'd planned.

YASSER ARAFAT: I told him that this visit will make a big story not only with us, with all the Muslims all over the world. He didn't listen to me.

NARRATOR: Barak cannot prevent Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount. He coordinates with the Palestinian authority, who agree to try to keep peace in the area.

    ARIEL SHARON, Likud Leader: I came here with a message of peace. I believe that we can live together with the Palestinians. I came here, to the holiest place of the Jewish people, in order to see what happens here and really to have the feelings that how we can move forward-

    AHMED TIBI, Israeli Arab, Adviser to Arafat: Mr. Sharon is a provocateur, and all the people who are joining him. He came here in order to burn up the area!

    SHLOMO BEN AMI: When I landed this morning in Israel from New York, the chief of police in Jerusalem, Yair Itzhaki, was hit by a stone in his head and he was taken to the hospital. His second in command ordered his people to confront the mob.

NARRATOR: The next day, Friday, the Muslim day of prayer, the Al Aqsa intifada is born. By day's end, 7 protesters are dead and 160 wounded.

EHUD BARAK: Arafat decided to turn back to violence after Camp David. This event of the Temple Mount, especially the second day, fell into his hand as a ripe kind of fruit, becoming a very kind of natural excuse for him.

    YASSER ARAFAT: You know that we are now in this century the only people who are under occupation. Who can accept this?

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Arafat has a very hard time seeing himself actually as the president of a country. In his own head, he is always the liberation fighter. Arafat, for whatever hisreasons, has not really taken the steps to condition the people for peace.

NARRATOR: The riots spread quickly throughout the West Bank and Gaza. This footage of 12-year-old Muhammed al-Dura shocks the world and comes to symbolize the intifada.

    WITNESS: [subtitles] He's dead! The boy is dead!

AHMED TIBI: Our people saw these pictures on the TV, saw the picture of Mohammed al-Dura directly killed. We decided to demonstrate.

NARRATOR: Riots engulf the Israeli Arab community, as well.

AHMED TIBI: The reaction of the Israeli police was unprecedented. They shot 13 of us and killed them.

NARRATOR: After a week, 50 Palestinians and 5 Israelis are dead.

October 12th, 2000. Two Israeli reservists accidentally stray into Palestinian territory and are arrested by the police. Soon they are lynched by a Palestinian mob. Israel blames the Palestinian authority for the murders, and within hours, attack helicopters destroy the police station. Israel also launches massive attacks on other targets in Gaza and the West Bank.

    REPORTER: What is your response?

    YASSER ARAFAT: My response is our people is continuing their road to Jerusalem, the capital of our independent Palestinian state. To accept or not to accept? Let them go to hell!

NARRATOR: Each new day reaps its crop of victims. Oslo has never seemed more remote. In Israel, Barak's policies are blamed for the rapidly deteriorating situation.

    ISRAELI DEMONSTRATOR: [subtitles] Look at me Mr. Barak! Look me in the eyes! One more child, one more child gets hurt, and I will personally come to you!

NARRATOR: The political pressure on Ehud Barak mounts. Even among his staunchest supporters, many now distrust Palestinian intentions. On December 12th, Barak announces his resignation. This will give him a window of 60 days to try and regain support before standing for reelection. But the violence has made his pro-negotiation stance difficult to defend. His people blame the Palestinians.

    GILEAD SHER: You destroyed the peace camp in Israel

    SAEB EREKAT: That's unfair.

    GILEAD SHER: Torn it apart with these four months of violence. It's four months now.

    SAEB EREKAT: Yeah, I know. We've been quiet for the last month.

    GILEAD SHER: [unintelligible] stopped it a week, a week after it started, two weeks after it started, one month after it started.

    SAEB EREKAT: A Greek tragedy.


    SAEB EREKAT: You know?

    GILEAD SHER: But you're one of the-

    SAEB EREKAT: It's a chapter. It's a chapter. Barak now is a new chapter in a Greek tragedy.

    GILEAD SHER: And you're playing the principal role in it.


    GILEAD SHER: Oh, yes.

    SAEB EREKAT: Oh. Do we have a shit list of mistakes? Do you want to do it?

    GILEAD SHER: No, but that's the main one. Basically, the main one.

NARRATOR: Likud leader Ariel Sharon, a hard-line former general, is running on a platform of security and is far ahead in the polls. Barak's only hope is to conclude a deal with the Palestinians quickly. Then he might win the election. He still believes the Israeli people want peace. In a desperate attempt to reach agreement before the election, the negotiators meet in the resort town of Taba.

ABU ALA: In Taba, the most important progress has been achieved there. In a negotiation, when you are stuck on the principles, there are no progress. When you accept the principle and move to the details, there are tangible progress.

NARRATOR: They move rapidly toward reconciling the differences allowed for in a framework created by President Clinton.

    SHLOMO BEN AMI: We have made substantial progress. Today we are closer than ever to the possibility of striking a final deal between us and the Palestinians.

NARRATOR: By late January, 2001, they've run out of political time. They'll never be able to conclude an agreement with Clinton now out of office and Barak standing for re-election in two weeks.

    [Campaign banner] [subtitles] Ariel Sharon, a leader for peace.

SAEB EREKAT: My heart aches because I know we were so close. I know we needed six more weeks to conclude the drafting of the agreement.

NARRATOR: On February 6th, 2001, Ariel Sharon is elected prime minister of Israel, defeating Barak in a landslide. Now two leaders who harbor deep mutual animosity and mistrust will shape the next chapter in the tumultuous history of the Middle East.

The political process stops. The old cycle of violence and counter-violence continues. Palestinian suicide bombing becomes an almost a daily event, sometimes twice a day.

    FEMALE SUICIDE BOMBER: I, the living shaheed, am dedicating my life for my brothers and will join my brothers, the shaheeds and the prophets.

NARRATOR: Israeli retaliation leaves hundreds of Palestinians dead. Then, on the eve of Passover, a suicide bomber explodes himself just as people sit down for the holiday meal. Thirty are killed, including entire families.

On March 29th, 2002, Israel launches Operation Defensive Shield. With overwhelming force, Israel re-enters Palestinian cities and refugee camps, hunting down terrorists and their infrastructure, often leaving massive destruction in their wake. And in Ramallah, Israeli forces enter Arafat's compound and hold him captive and isolated for 31 days. Sharon had taken the war to Arafat's doorstep.

    YASSER ARAFAT: [subtitles] This is a crime! And you, the press, are accomplices! Go away, all of you! Go tell the world about this crime!

NARRATOR: When Israeli forces eventually pull back, the peace process lies in ruins. The dream of Oslo is shattered.

YASSER ABED RABBO, Palestinian Negotiator: How can we live like this? All the world is opening to each other. The world has become one, one entity. Europe is becoming one entity. The cultural barriers are breaking. Everybody is becoming- is living with everybody! So why don't we become one thing together, one whole thing together, and all these stupid religious barriers or national barriers, all these non-human barriers will disappear.

GILEAD SHER: I'm not a political person. You know that. So I'm not saying we don't have a partner. We have a partner. It's the Palestinian people. We have a partner. It's the Palestinian leadership. And let me tell you, I don't know if you know that. I believe that with any one of the members of the Palestinian leadership - six, seven, eight, ten people - there could have been an agreement.

SHLOMO BEN AMI: Maybe what we lacked is not only time, it is also a fundamental readiness, ripeness of the parties to reconcile themselves with the most vital myth of the other.

SAEB EREKAT: At the end of the day, I know it's doable and I know Palestinians and Israelis can make peace. If it's not next year, if it's not in 10 years, the day will come when Palestinians and Israelis will build on what I, my colleagues and the Israelis achieved in the negotiations on permanent status.

I don't think they will ever reinvent the wheel. And the difference between this moment until the moment of reaching an agreement will be how many names - Palestinians and Israelis - will be added to the lists of death and agony. At the end of the day, there will be peace.




PRODUCED AND DIRECTED BY Dan Setton and Tor Ben Mayor


EDITED BY Tor Ben Mayor

CO-PRODUCER Peter Christian Fueter

ASSOCIATE PRODUCERS Talia Arouch Sabrina Castro

PHOTOGRAPHY Issa Fredj Yoram Benita Alon Grego Mossi Armon Talal Abu Rahme Joseph Handal

SOUND Meni Matok Naor Levy Leon Hershko



HEAD OF RESEARCH Charles Enderlin

CO-WRITER Hirsh Goodman

RESEARCHERS Yizhar Be'er Ofer Ashkenazi

MUSIC Dani Raichenta

ASSOCIATE EDITORS Ora Maimon Ariel Setton

ONLINE EDITORS Moshe Cohen Michael H. Amundson Julie Kahn?

SOUND MIX Norm Spiegel Christopher Anderson

ARCHIVAL FOOTAGE France 2 GPO Channel 2 Israel Reuters Fox News

THANKS Nissim Mossek Benedicte Massiet Nick Gardner Gerard Sebag Alain Jerome Eli Fastman Daniele Kriegel Bruno Wasserthal Khaled Abu Aker



SPECIAL THANKS Peter S. McGhee WGBH National Productions

for his many years of quiet inspiration and wise counsel

A SET Productions and C-Films production for WGBH in association with France2, Abu Dhabi Television and Tel-Ad Israel

Copyright 2002 WGBH Educational Foundation and SET Productions ALL RIGHTS RESERVED



ANNOUNCER: There's more on FRONTLINE's Web site about this report, including an inside look at the negotiations and the bitter debate over what derailed it all, a journalist's overview of Israelis' and Arabs' fundamentally different views of everything, a timeline of how the peace process was undone by the dynamics of politics and violence, and more. You can also find out on the Web site if this program will be shown again on your PBS station and when. Then join the discussion at PBS on line,, or write an email to, or write to this address [Dear FRONTLINE, 125 Western Ave., Boston, MA 02134].

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