- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 2, 2000

Let no bad deed go unrewarded. For his intransigence at Camp David's bargaining table, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat enjoyed a public relations bonanza, with adoring crowds chanting his name and carrying him on their shoulders upon his return. Meanwhile Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, who offered concessions on the West Bank, Gaza Strip and much of East Jerusalem, faces a vote today in parliament that could expedite upcoming elections and his possible ouster.

What is the master of Camp David, President Clinton, doing about this dispiriting turn of events? Having backed the Palestinians right up to this debacle, Mr. Clinton abruptly tried to rein in Mr. Arafat; he's threatening to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, which would signal U.S. approval of Israel's plan to maintain sovereignty over an undivided capital. Had Mr. Clinton been more balanced in his dealings with both parties from the beginning, such a threat might not have been necessary.

At this point, Mr. Barak has the most challenging obstacles to overcome. His supporters are tired of failed summits and Mr. Barak's many concessions. So in addition to calling for early elections, they gave him the barest of margins to survive a no-confidence vote; the 120-member parliament voted 50-50 to keep him. Hours earlier, his choice for president, former Prime Minister Shimon Peres, lost to the little-known Moshe Katsav from the opposition Likud party.

In voting against Mr. Peres, the legislators lost the skills of a Nobel Peace Prize winner who had led negotiations with the Palestinians in 1993. The schizophrenic, ultraorthodox Shas party, which vowed to stay with Mr. Barak after he delicately maneuvered a school-funding dispute and then jumped out of the coalition shortly thereafter, turned the vote toward Mr. Katsav as another in-your-face gesture to the prime minister. Their spiritual leader, Rabbi Yitzhak Kadouri, had had a vision that the former tourism minister was favored by the heavens and lobbied his fellow legislators to vote for him.

But for Mr. Clinton's gesture to bring the U.S. Embassy to West Jerusalem, it would seem Mr. Barak had been deserted. Five years ago when Congress lobbied for moving the embassy from the more neutral grounds of Tel Aviv, the administration stood against it. Why now the about-face from Mr. Clinton? Could he be doing a favor for wife Hillary, who is counting on the Jewish vote in her Senate campaign this fall?

What Israel needs is not another round of early elections, which will distract it from the progress it has made thus far. Its problem is an approach to negotiations that requires Israel to make all the concessions. The Clinton administration could help by seeking a more balanced process.

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