- The Washington Times - Friday, July 14, 2000

THURMONT, Md. Negotiators at the Camp David Middle East summit soldiered on Thursday, revealing few details as outsiders from both the Israeli and Palestinian camps stepped up their campaigns to influence the course of the talks.

President Clinton left the Maryland mountaintop compound Thursday morning for the first time since the talks began Tuesday amid signs the two sides have begun to engage each other directly on some of the core issues that have produced a half-century of conflict.

Mr. Clinton spent much of the day at events in Baltimore and Washington, leaving Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright in charge of the U.S. delegation here.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat met privately without Mr. Clinton in attendance late Wednesday evening for about an hour, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Thursday. The two met in the Birch Cottage, where Mr. Arafat is staying.

But sticking with the U.S. summit game plan, Mr. Boucher gave almost no details of the Barak-Arafat session or the bilateral and three-way meetings Thursday of the delegations.

"The delegations are grappling with the core issues of permanent status," Mr. Boucher said. "These are tough issues for all of them."

Mr. Clinton, addressing the convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in Baltimore, alluded only briefly to the Camp David talks, offering no details.

Mr. Clinton returned to the presidential retreat Thursday evening and is expected to stay with the delegations at least through the weekend.

While U.S. officials have tried to keep the principals strictly focused on the talks inside the serene presidential retreat, Palestinian officials indicated Thursday that Mr. Arafat still is eyeing a meeting with representatives of rival Palestinian factions in Washington to discuss the substance of the talks.

Three leading Palestinian politicians arrived in Washington Thursday, although there was no indication a meeting with Mr. Arafat had been set.

Mr. Arafat must tread warily, for many Palestinians fear he will be under heavy U.S. pressure in the isolation of Camp David to compromise on such hot-button issues as the rights of Palestinian refugees, the borders of a Palestinian state on the West Bank and Gaza, and the fate of Jerusalem.

U.S. officials have made plain in private their opposition to such a meeting during the Camp David summit.

Mr. Boucher said publicly Thursday that the Palestinian delegation has made no request for such an outside meeting.

Mr. Clinton, asked about the wisdom of such a meeting at a White House ceremony Thursday afternoon, declined to comment.

Israeli politicians supporting and opposing Mr. Barak's Camp David gamble also were speaking out Thursday.

Rabbi Michael Melchior, whose small religious party is part of Mr. Barak's embattled minority government in the Knesset, said he was carefully optimistic about the course of the talks based on cellular-phone conversations with Israeli negotiators inside the compound.

He said Israeli public opinion polls show a surge of support for Mr. Barak's decision to come to Camp David, up from 54 percent last week to 60 percent Thursday.

"The opposition is in fear of the people," Rabbi Melchior said Thursday. "The prime minister is putting together the same majority that he assembled last year for his landslide win, and over the same issue peace."

But Limor Livnat, a Knesset member and a minister in the Likud government of former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said in a telephone interview that the prime minister should not bypass the legislature with a popular referendum on any Camp David peace deal, as Mr. Barak has talked of doing.

"We live in a democracy," said Mrs. Livnat, who is in Washington on a private visit at the invitation of the American Enterprise Institute. "We don't just vote for a prime minister and then he can do whatever he wants to do."

She said Mr. Barak should bring any far-reaching deal to the Knesset first for a vote, and then put the question to the Israeli people in a general election should he lose.

"It seems like Barak is treating this whole negotiation like a military operation. Many of us in the Knesset are very worried," Mrs. Livnat said.

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