- The Washington Times - Friday, July 14, 2000

That's not Larry, Moe and Curly at Camp David, and it's not nice to think so.

Nevertheless, when a guy with nobody to hang out with and nothing much to do persuades one pal without a country and another without a government to settle the world's longest-running dispute in a single bound, it's difficult for some people not to see Moe at work.

But who's laughing? Yasser Arafat may have the most reason to, since it's the Israelis who are, as usual, offering the compromise.

Mr. Arafat invited Ehud Barak over to his cabin at Camp David Wednesday night to "grapple with core issues" in hot pursuit of what is inevitably called "the peace process." A process, a wise man observed, that is to peace as Velveeta is to cheese.

President Clinton left the talks yesterday to spin yarns for the NAACP in nearby Baltimore. The man who brought the politics of personal destruction to the presidency lifted quickly aloft on his usual shameless riff.

"I'm determined to make as much bipartisan progress with the Congress as I can in the last six months of my term," the president said. "I think we'll get a lot done, but … the thing I like about this election is, if we've got the right attitude about it, it can be an old-fashioned election, the kind the civics books say you ought to have, where we don't have people swinging mud at each other and repeating what we've seen in too many elections in the past where people basically say, you ought to vote for me, not because I'm so great, because my opponent is just one step above a car thief. [Laughter.] I mean, how many elections have you seen run like that?"

Well, at least two, actually, and in between we've had nonstop White House attacks on all the women the president has ever raped or tried to, and anyone who stood up to the kind of vilification and assault that would make a Palestinian car-bomber blush has James Carville's tooth marks on his rear end. Now that he has become the crazy uncle soon to be sent to live in the nation's attic, Moe wants to be remembered as someone who once did a good deed, and the Israelis and the Palestinians have to suffer for it.

While the president was off pandering in Baltimore, Madeleine Albright took over the task of keeping the principals on their sides of the table, and the hints of compromise, carefully leaked to the reporters waiting at a commandeered elementary school in Thurmont 10 miles away, are that Mr. Barak will agree to allowing the Palestinians to keep order in their own neighborhoods in Jerusalem.

The Israeli minister for diaspora affairs and a member of Mr. Barak's coalition was sent out to say that the prime minister is "cautiously optimistic" that a deal can be struck. This is diplomatspeak for "nobody has a clue."

Since nothing much is happening at the summit, punditry runs amok, and Yasser Arafat has learned a thing or two. Mr. Arafat brought a spinner of his own with him this time, a sharp-tongued critic and a woman to boot. Not your usual Muslim woman, covered in black from top to unseen toes, but a Christian and a professor of Western literature (her specialty is John Donne) who speaks up and out.

Hanan Ashrawi, 53, resigned from Mr. Arafat's government-in-waiting in 1998, citing corruption and mishandling of the talks with Israel. Unlike Mr. Arafat and the usual Arab diplomat, she does not ramble or bloviate, offering a history of the cosmos when someone merely asks the time, but stays on message and to the point in flawless English. She has assailed both Arab and Jew for trampling the civil rights of the Palestinians.

So when she accuses Israel of bad things, as she does, the pundits and media bloviators tend to listen, at least for a soundbite or two. She accuses Israel of stockpiling arms against the day of another war (friends of Israel should hope so), of organizing military provocations, of "condescending" in "offering land that belongs to Palestinians already."

The spinning is scheduled to end next Wednesday when President Clinton is off on another leg of his billion-dollar farewell, which is already the longest-running goodbye tour since Sarah Bernhardt's third. The president opens and closes next week in Tokyo, at the economic summit of the Group of Eight.

All the Israelis and the Palestinians have to do to wrap up peace in our time is to settle the status of Jerusalem. Mr. Barak's offer would expand Jerusalem's borders to include certain Israeli settlements on the West Bank, and in return the Palestinians would get certain Arab neighborhoods. The Palestinians demand a return to the status of 1967, before the Arabs lost the war they started.

Not very likely, but it will be enough to fight over for as long as anyone remembers Moe.

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