To my mind, this was very important. Arafat was an outgoing type. He loved personal contact, entertaining guests, sometime feeding them with his fingers. In a very Arab way, he believed in person-to-person relations.
Barak is the exact opposite, cold, withdrawn, preferring impersonal logic to personal contact. Any kind of intimacy is distasteful to him.
I sometimes wonder what would have happened if Ariel Sharon had been there instead of Barak. Sharon, like Arafat, was outgoing, enjoyed personal contact, liked hosting people and perhaps would have helped create a different atmosphere.
BUT OF course, the political differences were more important than the personal ones.
Since there had been no preparations at all, the two sides came with highly incompatible proposals.
Barak had absolutely no prior experience with Arab matters. He came to Camp David with a set of proposals which were indeed more far-reaching than anything Israel had proposed before. He was ready to accept a Palestinian state, though with many conditions and limitations. Perhaps he expected that the Palestinians would jump up and embrace him upon hearing his concessions.
Unfortunately, Barak's maximum fell far short of Arafat's minimum. The Palestinian leader thought about his reception back home if he gave up basic Palestinian demands. In the end, there was no agreement.
Clinton was furious and, in violation of his solemn promise, put all the blame on Arafat. He was probably thinking about his wife, Hillary, who at that time was standing for election as senator of "Jew-York."
But it was Barak who turned his personal failure into a historic catastrophe.
WHAT WOULD a real statesman have done in such a situation?
I can imagine a speech like this:
"Dear fellow citizens,
I am sorry to tell you that the Camp David conference has been adjourned without reaching the hoped-for results.
Of course, it would have been foolhardy to expect that a conflict that has already lasted more than a hundred years could be resolved in a fortnight. That would have been a miracle.
The two sides have been engaged in an earnest dialogue, based on mutual respect. We have learned much about each other's views and problems.
We have now appointed a number of joint committees to study the various aspects of the conflict, like borders, Jerusalem, security, refugees etc., in detail. In due course we shall convene a second, and if necessary a third, conference, to achieve a final peace agreement.