by Shane Lewis21 June '18
2000 Camp David Summit abstraction
Abstract art piece reflecting on the Arab-Israeli question
In this oil painting, we can see adumbrated the heads of the participants of the talks: the Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak in the center and the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to the right. Contiguous with these and between them is another larger head that is downcast with its mouth closed. This could be seen as an analog of the then American president Clinton, the instigator of the talks that were devised as preparatory for a historic solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. The lowered expression and closed mouth of this head are premonitory of the ultimate failure of these talks to garner a settlement but also of Clinton's role as the facilitator of discussion rather than being the active proponent of a deal.
The artist replicates Barak's head in various positions, showing movement and perhaps perceived superior adaptability in negotiation. Arafat's head on the right is stationary, perhaps to refer to a more inflexible attitude. On the other hand, Barak's mobile head could indicate unsettled irascibility that could endanger the possibility of a satisfactory resolution. If so, there could be, in contrast to Barak's attitude, Arafat's single-minded and consistent position throughout the talks, as his head is almost of a sculptural steadfastness. These subtle ambiguities of portrayal create an ambivalence of value and a fluctuating motion in the mind of the spectator as a finality of tendency is judiciously avoided by the artist who thereby initiates an openness that invites the participation of the viewer.
The figures of this oil painting jump out starkly from the background which could be interpreted as the threat of chaos, as the artist's work with a palette knife and brush suggest.
It was publicly stated before and during this summit that nothing would be agreed unless and until everything was agreed. The questions of territory, of the status of Jerusalem and the Temple of the Mount, of the return of Palestinian refugees of the conflict, of security, and of the Arab settlements all proved to be insoluble at 2000 Camp David Summit. The artist loose skeins painted at the lower reaches of the picture point to this lack of an agreement on any of these issues, providing a sense that there were loose ends left untied, and perhaps also a sense that there was a fatal incommensurability between both political positions – the Arab-Israeli question persisting as a sphinx-like riddle that eludes an answer and that still costs lives today.