- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 25, 2000

THURMONT, Md. The outside pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat intensified yesterday as President Clinton huddled with lower-level negotiators in search of an elusive peace deal at the Camp David summit.
With the talks set to enter their 15th day today, Ariel Sharon, head of Israel's opposition Likud party, yesterday called for new parliamentary elections because of what he said were Mr. Barak's broken promises regarding Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem, which both sides claim as their capital.
"The prime minister has entangled us in an intolerable situation," Mr. Sharon said in a radio interview. His party plans to introduce a bill Aug. 2 to disband the Barak government barely one year into its four-year term.
"We have to go to elections so that there will be responsible leadership that will bring a better peace … peace with a united Jerusalem."
For his part, Mr. Arafat is getting both public and private advice from Arab opinion leaders to take an unyielding stand on Jerusalem, something the Palestinian leader may actually be encouraging. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who has been in touch by phone with both Mr. Clinton and Mr. Arafat during the summit, conferred with Saudi King Fahd and Crown Prince Abdullah during a weekend visit to Riyadh. With the Saudis controlling two of the most sacred Muslim holy cities, the Saudi rulers are seen as influential arbiters on the status of the holy sites on the Temple Mount site in East Jerusalem.
Mr. Mubarak, whom U.S. officials hoped would help pressure Mr. Arafat to settle, also plans talks with new Syrian President Bashar Assad and Jordan's King Abdullah II in the coming days.
Editorials in leading Arab newspapers have been strongly against any Palestinian compromise on Jerusalem, which Israel annexed after the 1967 Six Day War.
Mr. Clinton wasted no time diving back into the Middle East talks after a break to attend the Group of Eight summit in Japan. Mr. Clinton returned to the Maryland compound Sunday evening and proceeded to spend virtually the entire night huddled with Israeli and Palestinian negotiators, while Mr. Barak and Mr. Arafat largely confined themselves to their cabins.
The first session broke up at 5 a.m. yesterday morning, and Mr. Clinton was back with the delegates five hours later for another full day of bargaining.
Having just returned from Japan, Mr. Clinton tentatively plans to leave the Camp David retreat at lunchtime today to attend a memorial service for a family friend in Arkansas, returning around midnight. As in the past, Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright will head the U.S. delegation in the president's absence.
After joking that the delegates hope to wind up in time for talk-show hostess Kathie Lee Gifford's farewell performance Friday with co-host Regis Philbin, White House spokesman Joe Lockhart said Mr. Clinton will make a "rolling assessment" of how long to keep the summit going.
"I think the fact that he was up until 5 a.m. and was back at it again early this morning should lead you to believe that he thinks staying here for the time being is worthwhile," Mr. Lockhart said, calling the talks "exhaustive and exhausting."
Two visitors to Camp David over the weekend raised hopes that the talks could be approaching a conclusion.
Israeli defense attache Col. Daniel Reisner, who helped draft the 1998 Wye River accord, joined the Camp David negotiators from nearby Emmitsburg, Md., where Israeli and Palestinian officials have been meeting on second-tier issues such as water rights and economic development.
And the CIA confirmed that Director George J. Tenet came to Camp David over the weekend for unspecified meetings. Mr. Clinton used the CIA and its resources to nail down joint security guarantees for Israel and the Palestinian Authority in the 1998 Wye talks.
While U.S. officials remain mum, leaks from both the Israeli and Palestinian camps indicate that Jerusalem remains the single most difficult issue still on the table at Camp David. Citing officials who have been in touch with negotiators at the compound, Israeli papers yesterday outlined a proposal that would give Mr. Arafat "authority" over Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem and unspecified control of Muslim and Christian quarters of Jerusalem's Old City ground zero in the territorial clash between the two sides.
According to the reports, Israel would retain final sovereignty over the Old City sites, and would also annex several settler neighborhoods on the West Bank near the Old City.
Mr. Lockhart offered no specifics on the talks, and said the "batting average" of those speculating from outside the compound "has not improved."
With his minority government barely clinging to power, Mr. Barak's own past comments may come back to haunt him as negotiators struggle for a compromise formula.
Just a week after his election, Mr. Barak promised in a May 1999 address: "Jerusalem shall remain the eternal and undivided capital of Israel. On this question there is no room for doubt, nor any political haggling."
An opinion poll released yesterday by the Israeli newspaper Ma'ariv found that Israelis opposed the tentative deal by a 52 percent to 40 percent margin. Mr. Barak has been banking on a popular referendum to sell any deal he makes at Camp David as his parliamentary majority has crumbled.
And former Likud Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the man Mr. Barak defeated last year, issued his first public broadside against his successor as leaks about Israeli concession on Jerusalem continued to play in the press.
Mr. Barak has broken "all the red lines held by all Israeli governments," Mr. Netanyahu told a press conference in Israel yesterday. "To my sadness, according to most of the reports from Camp David, what is happening there does not answer our expectations and hopes."

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