- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 20, 2000

THURMONT, Md. President Clinton's effort to broker peace in the Mideast stumbled to an inconclusive end last night as Israeli and Palestinian negotiators failed to reach a deal on any of the core peace issues in nine days of Camp David summitry.
Despite the inability to clinch a deal, efforts began immediately to salvage the failed talks.
Mr. Clinton, appearing tired, announced at 12:45 a.m. the plan to continue the negotiations and later resume the summit.
"The gaps remain substantial, but there has been progress and we must all be prepared to go the extra mile," Mr. Clinton said.
The two sides agreed to stay on at Camp David working with Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright while he traveled to Okinawa for a summit of industrialized nations, Mr. Clinton said.
"Nobody wanted to give up," Mr. Clinton said. "After all these years, as hard as these issues are, nobody wanted to give up… . This is really, really hard.
"During the time I am gone Secretary Albright will be working with the parties and we will continue to try to close the gaps," Mr. Clinton said. "Upon my return, we will assess the progress of the talks."
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat would resume the summit when Mr. Clinton returns.
The inability to clinch a deal this week clouds the prospects for progress on Mr. Clinton's top remaining foreign policy priority. A complete breakdown of the talks could open a dangerous and potentially violent new phase in one of the world's most volatile regions.
"The summit has come to a conclusion without reaching an agreement," White House spokesman Joe Lockhart announced last night just before 11 p.m.
The postponement capped a day of increasingly gloomy signals, with both Mr. Barak and Mr. Arafat complaining that the other was not dealing in good faith on such difficult issues as the future borders of a Palestinian state, control of Jerusalem, and the fate of millions of Palestinian refugees.
The Palestinian representative in Washington, Hassan Abdel-Rahman, said a decision to resume the talks was made barely one hour after the White House announced a nine-day peace summit had ended without agreement.
Mr. Arafat will remain in the United States overnight as part of the efforts to revive the failed Camp David peace talks, Mr. Abdel-Rahman said.
So will Mr. Barak.
"There are efforts to resume the negotiations," said Mr. Abdel-Rahman.
A second White House spokesman, P.J. Crowley, told reporters at the Thurmont press center that Mr. Clinton had tried in vain for several hours to strike a last-minute deal between Mr. Arafat and Mr. Barak.
"For the last three hours the president has been shuttling between the two leaders but unfortunately was unable to come to an agreement," Mr. Crowley said.
Israeli and Palestinian sources in touch with their delegations had both voiced pessimism that an overall settlement could be reached overnight, particularly on the issue of Jerusalem.
As the talks tumbled to their indecisive end, the gloom set in earlier than the final announcement of failure.
"They'll continue negotiating until they're not negotiating anymore," a grim-faced Mr. Lockhart told the international press corps assembled for the talks earlier yesterday.
The diplomatic breakdown capped a day of increasingly gloomy signals, with both Mr. Barak and Mr. Arafat complaining that the other was not dealing in good faith on such difficult issues as the future borders of a Palestinian state, control of Jerusalem and the fate of millions of Palestinian refugees.
To the end, U.S. officials had hoped to announce a least a partial deal to keep the momentum of the peace talks alive in the face of a Sept. 13 deadline, upon which Mr. Arafat says he is prepared to unilaterally declare a Palestinian state on the West Bank and Gaza.
Mr. Clinton ended the summit after he and the two leaders engaged in three hours of futile talks. The absence of a deal was the worst of the possible outcomes for the White House going into the high-risk talks.
Mr. Barak helped provoke a crisis in the talks early yesterday, writing a stinging letter to Mr. Clinton accusing his Palestinian counterpart of failing to negotiate seriously on the tough issues that have divided the two peoples for more than a half-century.
Mr. Barak's letter to Mr. Clinton did not actually threaten a walkout, but argued pointedly that Mr. Arafat had failed to "seize the opportunity" offered by the president in hosting the summit.
"To my sorrow, I have come to the conclusion that the Palestinian side is conducting negotiations insincerely and is not willing to negotiate in a serious and practical manner for a permanent peace between us," Mr. Barak wrote.
Palestinian officials in turn accused the Israelis of positioning themselves to win the post-summit blame game.
"What Barak has done in many ways is to go to Camp David with inflexible, intractable conditions," said longtime Palestinian spokeswoman Hanan Ashrawi, who did not participate in the Maryland talks.
"And, predictably, when the talks do not achieve any kind of solution, he is ready to blame the Palestinians," Mrs. Ashrawi said in an interview with Associated Press Television.
Dramatic departure threats and last-minute face-saving agreements have been the norm in past Middle East negotiations, but the difficulty of the issues on the table this time transformed the threats into a reality.
Even the possibility of a second summit next month something White House officials did not definitively deny yesterday would leave both Mr. Barak and Mr. Arafat subject to heavy political pressure at home not to go beyond what they agreed to over the past nine days. This was exactly the kind of influence and lobbying that the isolated, media-free Camp David setting sought to prevent.
All sides said the issue of who would control Jerusalem proved the most difficult of the summit.
The Israelis floated proposals to give the Palestinians limited autonomy over neighborhoods in Arab East Jerusalem, but insisted Israel would retain full sovereignty over the city that both claim as their capital.
Mr. Clinton, who devoted virtually all of his time to the talks since the two leaders arrived early last week, yesterday met at least twice separately with Mr. Arafat and Mr. Barak. Mr. Lockhart said the president also phoned several leaders in the region, explaining the state of the talks and "the need for support to help the parties reach an agreement."
By noon, Israeli press outlets were reporting that Mr. Barak had informed associates that the talks had broken down and that the Israeli delegation was going home.
The Palestinians "are unable not only to accept the Israeli positions, but even to move closer to the American positions," Ofir Pines, a leader of Mr. Barak's parliamentary coalition, told Israeli public radio in an interview.
Despite the American insistence on a news blackout during the talks, strategic leaks particularly in the Israeli press in the last few days on both sides have clearly been used to try to place the blame on the other side in case the talks broke down.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide