- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 13, 2000

THURMONT, Md. Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has emerged as the odd man out at Camp David's three-way summit.

With President Clinton and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak plainly eager for a deal on some of the Middle East's thorniest issues, the willingness of the Palestinian leader to reach an agreement and sell it back home looms as the largest question mark hanging over the summit, now entering its third day under a near-total media blackout.

Mr. Arafat is much more worried about the reaction back home to a deal than Egyptian President Anwar Sadat ever was about any agreement he made at the first Camp David summit in 1978, said Samuel Lewis, a member of the U.S. negotiating team at the 1978 summit and a former U.S. ambassador to Israel.

At some point, the summit might boil down to President Clinton talking much tougher to Mr. Arafat than he is used to if there's going to be a breakthrough, Mr. Lewis said.

Mr. Arafat comes to Camp David as a weakened leader, said Shibley Telhami, an expert on Arab politics at the University of Maryland. He cited opinion polls that show the Palestinian leader is increasingly unpopular back home.

The U.S. government may feel that the Israelis have offered most of the significant concessions so far, but the perception among Palestinians on the street is that Mr. Arafat is giving away the store, Mr. Telhami said.

White House spokesman Joe Lockhart said yesterday's second day of talks at the secluded Maryland presidential retreat consisted of a fluid series of planned and impromptu meetings between the delegations, with the golf cart-riding negotiators adopting a more informal tone amid communal meals.

Mr. Clinton hosted the Israeli and Palestinian leaders in separate bilateral meetings yesterday, with Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright and Dennis Ross, the State Department's Middle East point man, hosting meetings with negotiators from both camps. The three delegations were to have a joint, informal dinner last night.

Mr. Clinton will be away from the Camp David compound today to address the convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in Baltimore and to attend a medal presentation on Capitol Hill the only two non-Camp David events on his schedule before his planned departure Wednesday for the Group of Eight summit in Japan.

Mr. Lockhart vigorously refused to characterize the substance of the talks or provide any progress updates, but indicated that an early breakthrough was not in the cards.

Mr. Barak's decision yesterday to call off a planned sale of sophisticated military surveillance planes to China has removed a major irritant in U.S.-Israeli relations and could, coincidentally, increase the pressure on Mr. Arafat to strike a deal.

Mr. Lockhart praised the Israeli decision yesterday, but maintained it would not affect the course of the Camp David negotiations.

"I view the issues that face the summit as complicated enough and difficult enough to not have to bring other issues into it," the White House spokesman said.

Presidential politics intruded into the summit when it was revealed that Richard Perle, a foreign-policy adviser to Republican candidate George W. Bush, had cautioned Israeli advisers to Mr. Barak last week against allowing the White House to use them for political gain in any Camp David deal.

Mr. Lockhart said yesterday there were no plans for Vice President Al Gore to come to the summit, adding: "Anyone who tries to inject politics into this important summit is misguided at best, and anyone who tries to undermine it for political gain is something worse than misguided."

While Mr. Barak's domestic political problems have been well-chronicled in recent days, Mr. Arafat faces an equally tough sell among contentious Palestinian factions and with some Arab states.

The Palestinian delegation here was accompanied by a coalition of five Palestinian organizations dominated by Mr. Arafat's Fatah. But other powerful Palestinian factions, including Hamas, have boycotted the summit, fearful Mr. Arafat will come under heavy U.S. pressure to make a deal.

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