- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 19, 2000

THURMONT, Md. President Clinton yesterday faced a second sleepless night of bargaining as Israelis and Palestinians labored to meet today's deadline for a comprehensive peace deal at the Camp David summit.
The White House described the talks as intense as the delegations headed by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat huddled separately yesterday seeking a deal over such searing issues as the borders of a new Palestinian state and the future of Jerusalem
White House spokesman Joe Lockhart said the long hours at the Maryland mountain retreat reflected the difficulty of the issues on the table and the fact that Mr. Clinton's scheduled departure this morning for the Group of Eight summit in Japan has forced the pace of the talks.
"Both sides have clear views of what's in their interests, and it is very, very difficult to try to bridge the gaps," Mr. Lockhart said.
Possible outcomes include a comprehensive deal addressing the issues that have divided Israel and the Palestinians for more than 50 years, an interim deal with a possible follow-up summit later this summer, and a breakdown that could ratchet up tensions in the region if Mr. Arafat follows through on a threat to unilaterally declare a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza.
As many had predicted before the summit began, the status of Jerusalem has emerged as perhaps the most difficult issue of all. Both sides claim the city as their capital, and one of Mr. Barak's pre-summit "red lines" was to never surrender control of Jerusalem to the Palestinians.
Mr. Clinton still has the option of postponing his departure today to Japan for the summit, which officially begins Friday. Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright yesterday canceled a trip to give a speech in London to stay at the Camp David talks.
Mr. Clinton was up until 5 a.m. yesterday, meeting twice with Mr. Barak during the night. Five hours later, he was meeting with Mr. Arafat, after which the two delegations caucused separately.
Mr. Lockhart refused to discuss whether the two sides were considering a U.S. "bridging" proposal, a widely anticipated attempt by Mr. Clinton and his advisers to nail down an agreement or at least consolidate the gains of the past nine days before the summit ends.
Going into last night's last-ditch talks, Mr. Barak and Mr. Arafat had met only twice without Mr. Clinton in attendance during the course of the summit.
Both delegations have been in touch with leading Jerusalem experts back home as the talks intensified. Mr. Barak discussed the issue Monday with Reuven Merhav, a former director general of the Israeli Foreign Ministry who has been exploring possible compromises on the city's status.
The Palestinian Camp David delegation has been in touch by phone with Faisal Husseini, who is in charge of the Jerusalem portfolio for the Palestinian Authority. While the Israelis have floated a compromise giving the Palestinians control of some Arab-dominated East Jerusalem neighborhoods, Mr. Arafat reportedly has remained adamant for more.
The Israeli daily Ha'aretz reported yesterday that the Palestinians are seeking full control over some of the most sensitive East Jerusalem sites, annexed by the Israelis after the 1967 war, including the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem's Old City.
"We refuse to get into a game of percentages with the Israelis" over Jerusalem, a Palestinian Authority spokesman told reporters yesterday.
Representatives of radical Palestinian groups increased their pressure on Mr. Arafat yesterday, staging a rally at the West Bank town of Nablus. The groups demanded the return of East Jerusalem, burning the Israeli flag and posters reading "Camp David."
Rumors yesterday afternoon swept the press headquarters in this Maryland town about five miles from the Camp David compound that the talks had reached a crisis, with the Palestinian delegation prepared to leave and follow through on Mr. Arafat's threat to unilaterally declare a Palestinian state this fall.
But Mr. Lockhart cautioned that speculation from outside the rural Maryland retreat did not necessarily reflect the reality of the negotiations.
"The batting average of reports coming out of people who are not here has not improved," he said yesterday.
Mr. Clinton talked with House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert Monday night from Camp David, in part, White House officials said, to discuss the possible U.S. tab for any peace deal. Mr. Lockhart challenged reports that the White House has kept Congress in the dark about the billions of dollars the deal may require from U.S. taxpayers.
"I think everyone should just hold their fire on what they think it should be, what they think it shouldn't be, until we've got something in place and we can actually look at what the real needs are," he said.
But even with Mr. Clinton set to leave for Japan this morning, outsiders continued to try to influence the talks.
Uzi Landau, chairman of the Security and Foreign Affairs Committee in the Knesset, Israel's parliament, under the previous Likud government, said yesterday he had received no response to his request for a meeting with Mr. Barak to discuss his growing fears over the course of the talks.
"The feeling is growing back home that the Israeli delegation under Mr. Barak is trying to reach an agreement here at all costs," Mr. Landau said in Washington. "We want to make sure that Jerusalem is not divided and that we don't give up the vital Jordan Valley under whatever agreement emerges."
Mr. Landau said he did not believe he was undermining Mr. Barak's position at Camp David by his trip here, and said Israeli polls showing a majority in favor of Mr. Barak's trip to Camp David were misleading.
"What you see is a majority saying they want peace," he said, "but also that a vast majority opposes the individual compromises Barak is talking about on Jerusalem, the Jordan Valley and the question of Palestinian refugees."

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide