- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 28, 2000

The Palestinian leadership called President Clinton's bluff again on the eve of a summit in Egypt between Israeli interim Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Mr. Clinton had proposed a tidy Middle East peace plan which could have been approved in time for Mr. Clinton's departure from office Jan. 20, and perhaps even on schedule to hand Mr. Barak some political favors before the Feb. 6 Israeli elections for prime minister. According to the Clinton plan, Israel would be asked to give even more concessions than at previous summits in recent years though the Israelis thought this was impossible after this summer's Camp David talks. But as of this writing, the Palestinians were talking about giving up before they even made it to the negotiating table, and Egyptian sources say the summit has been canceled.

Today's meeting at Sharm el-Sheikh, organized by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, was to be the first time the two leaders had talked face to face since the outbreak of violence in the region this October which has led to almost 350 deaths. But Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abad Rabbo said last night that the Palestinians could not accept the U.S. plan, saying it would endanger their future and their national goals. If their goals are to avoid making peace until all of Israel is theirs, he is right to think this plan would endanger that future. In light of the concessions the Israelis would be making, though, the Palestinians would be walking out of what could be the best deal for them yet.

The proposal would have the Israelis withdraw from 95 percent of the West Bank and 100 percent of the Gaza Strip. They would have to give up the Temple Mount, the site of ancient Jewish temples, and the most sacred shrine in Judaism. Arab neighborhoods would also be under the Palestinians' control. A few Palestinian refugees would be allowed to return to Israel, though most would have to settle in the Palestinian-controlled West Bank and Gaza Strip, which would become the Palestinian state. In return, most of the 3 million Palestinian refugees made homeless after the creation of the state of Israel in 1948 would not have a right of return to Israel.

Ariel Sharon, who Palestinians blame for starting the violence with his visit to the Temple Mount, called the Clinton proposals a "clearance sale" for Israel. He is not far from the truth.

In this land deal, Israel is the loser. By agreeing to the proposals, Israelis would not only lose sacred ground, they would have further reason to mistrust their leader. But even the Palestinians will not gain from the deal if they decide not to show up today. Deciding to reject the proposals would mean the Palestinian leadership is choosing to delay peace and approve the continuation of violence. Israel's sacred ground and the well-being of Palestinian citizens must not be a casualty of the political ambitions of Messrs. Barak, Arafat and Clinton.

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