- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 29, 2000

JERUSALEM Middle East peacemaking suffered a setback yesterday when Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright failed to clinch agreement for a Camp David-style summit in which Israelis and Palestinians would settle the last remaining disputes holding up a permanent peace accord.

Palestinian suspicions that such a summit would force them to make unwanted compromises, coupled with deep cracks in Prime Minister Ehud Barak's coalition over the amount of territory Israel should cede to the Palestinians, scuttled efforts to bring leaders of the two sides together next week.

Instead, lower-ranking officials will hold another round of what are now endgame negotiations on some of most sensitive issues of the decades-old conflict.

"There has been no date set," President Clinton said at a press conference in Washington after Mr. Albright's separate meetings in the region with Mr. Barak and Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat.

"I do not believe that they can solve the final, most difficult issues without having the leaders get together in some isolated setting and make the last tough decisions," Mr. Clinton said.

The two sides have until September to strike a deal or run the risk of more violence.

That's the deadline the Israelis and Palestinians agreed upon last year for the completion of their peace accord. Mr. Arafat has pledged to unilaterally declare a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip if no agreement is reached, a move that is certain to trigger a confrontation with Israel.

Palestinian officials said negotiators were still far apart on the main issues the borders of a Palestinian state, the fate of 200,000 Jewish settlers in the West Bank and Gaza, and the future of Jerusalem, which each side claims as its capital.

Some Israeli officials have said Mr. Barak is willing to hand over more than 90 percent of the West Bank and Gaza Strip in exchange for peace with the Palestinians. But Mr. Arafat signaled yesterday that he would accept nothing less than the entire area, which Israel captured in a war 33 years ago.

Mrs. Albright declined to discuss details of her talks but said each side had to compromise.

"In this regard, no one can afford to allow the perfect to become the enemy of the good, and the result needs to ensure that both sides emerge stronger rather than weaker," she told reporters.

Mr. Barak, who pledged upon his election in May 1999 to make peace with the Palestinians within a year, had been pushing for the summit.

But, reflecting the discord within the Israeli government over the terms of a final settlement with the Palestinians, Mr. Barak's own foreign minister, David Levy, told Mrs. Albright that a summit was premature. He also said meeting Mr. Arafat's demands would be a "capitulation," not a peace process.

Two parties in Mr. Barak's coalition threatened to bolt if the high-level meeting took place.

Mr. Barak, who lost his closest coalition partner the left-wing Meretz party in a squabble last week over domestic issues, has presided over a shaky government of hawks and doves.

Members of his own One Israel party have spearheaded peacemaking with the Palestinians while the National Religious Party and the Yisrael Ba'Aliyah party of Russian immigrants have done their best to impede it.

These competing forces have destabilized successive Israeli governments.

Mr. Barak's predecessor, Benjamin Netanyahu, faced similar pressure from the right wing of his coalition in the weeks leading up to his 1998 summit with Mr. Arafat at Wye River Plantation in Maryland.

That summit produced an interim agreement with the Palestinians known as the Wye accord, but opposition to the deal within Mr. Netanyahu's coalition led within months to the collapse of his government.

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