- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 21, 2000

For Israelis, Tuesday was a day of compromise. As the Palestinian and Israeli negotiators arrived in Washington for another round of peace talks, Israel was already considering giving up sovereignty over the al-Aqsa mosque compound on the Temple Mount in exchange for an end of the right of Palestinian refugees to return home to Israeli territory. Ehud Barak, who resigned from the premiership less than two weeks ago, is desperate for a peace deal to pave the way toward another term for prime minister after Israeli elections Feb. 6. But he would be offering the Palestinians a piece of Israeli sovereignty as a resigned prime minister, with a lame duck U.S. administration as mediator and no majority coalition in parliament to back him. This does not sound promising.

Israeli concessions on Jerusalem and its borders, offered at the recent Camp David negotiations, are once again on the table, and then some. So far, the Palestinians have not made clear what the Israelis would get for their concessions and have already rejected the Israeli Temple Mount offer. They will accept nothing less than Israel's withdrawal to its borders before the 1967 Middle East war, Saeb Erekat, the head of the Palestinian delegation said.

Mr. Barak's delegates, headed by Foreign Minister Schlomo Ben-Ami, should take heed. President Clinton and the Palestinian and Israeli negotiators worry that if there is no deal by the time Mr. Clinton leaves office, momentum will be lost. But making a bad deal is worse than no deal at all.

At home, politicians were making compromises of another kind. The Knesset found a way around Israeli election law by passing a measure nicknamed the "Bibi bill," after former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. It changed the law requiring candidates for high office in special elections to be members of the Knesset, which Mr. Netanyahu was not. It then voted to not allow parliament to dissolve itself, causing the now-eligible candidate Mr. Netanyahu to step out of the race for prime minister because he was unwilling to run unless there were parliamentary-wide elections. One can hardly blame him, as the fractured 19-party Knesset with no majority coalition promises to be in a stalemate for quite some time. At the same time, Mr. Netanyahu, who has criticized Mr. Barak's extensive concessions, promised to keep fighting against an agreement with the Palestinians he sees as dangerous.

As Mr. Barak now faces-off against Likud leader Ariel Sharon, he cannot trade-off Israel in the process. Mr. Netanyahu has grasped what the parliament and Mr. Barak seem to have temporarily forgotten any peace they claim to bring to the Israeli people must provide for the protection of Israel's security long after they have left politics.

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