- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 11, 2000

Camp David. The words conjure up ghosts of Middle East peace accords past, and are supposed to give hope that this sacred ground will give birth to a Palestinian-Israeli agreement and soon. Would that it were so.

It has only been two weeks since a very frustrated Clinton administration admitted the Palestinians and Israelis were not yet ready to solve the final status issues that had caused 52 years of conflict between the two groups. But yesterday Mr. Clinton was busy preparing for another fairy tale summit, and said both Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak had "the vision, the knowledge, the experience and the ability and the sheer guts to do what it takes," to reach an agreement.

Really? Just days ago, a U.S. official gave the summit a one in three chance of succeeding. The Palestinians were also balking at the thought of the summit this time last week. As Mr. Barak left home yesterday for the beginning of the summit today, he had barely survived a no-confidence vote brought by the opposition Likud party. His majority coalition had collapsed after three right-wing parties had resigned, saying they thought Mr. Barak was making too many concessions and not protecting Israel's security. Add to that the fact that Mr. Barak's key negotiator, Foreign Minister David Levy, said Sunday he would refuse to join the delegation in protest over the Palestinians' threats of violence. His interior minister, Natan Sharansky, quit in protest over Mr. Barak's failure to build unified internal support for the peace process. Israeli President Weizman added his resignation to the pile Monday.

Back in Palestinian circles, Mr. Arafat was strengthening his praised "vision" recently by telling his supporters he would declare a Palestinian state within weeks, and to the cheers of thousands, incited resolution to the conflict by other means: "Whoever has forgotten, I want to remind him of … seven years of intifada (uprising) and I say we are willing to start again."

To try to negotiate a peace under such conditions is nothing more than ludicrous. Yes, all sides had agreed on a Sept. 13 deadline to decide the final status issues of the future of Jerusalem, the borders of Palestinian areas and what to do with the Palestinian refugees. Yes, Mr. Arafat has threatened again to declare a Palestinian state if peace talks are not concluded to his liking by then. Yes, Mr. Clinton has said that if the meeting didn't go through it would "guarantee failure" which could lead to more violence. But in the seven years of negotiations since the famous first Oslo peace accord, such dates have come and gone.

If Mr. Clinton had been willing to wait while a shattered Israeli government rallied internal support, no party would have been the worse. But that would have been embarrassing for the Clinton administration, which is hoping to claim victory for some peace deal before the end of Mr. Clinton's term. Mr. Clinton has laid out what he thinks is necessary for parties coming to the negotiating table today. The question is, whether he has the "sheer guts" to face reality.

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