- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 26, 2000

THURMONT, Md. The Mideast peace talks collapsed again yesterday, and this time Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian Yasser Arafat went home.

President Clinton's Camp David gamble ended in failure when a fortnight of close-quarters bargaining broke up without a deal.

Both Mr. Barak and Mr. Arafat blamed the other side for not making the necessary compromises.

As expected, what to do about Jerusalem, which both sides claim as their capital, was the obstacle neither said they could overcome.

The breakdown of the summit at the secluded presidential retreat in the Maryland countryside was a blow to Mr. Clinton's personal prestige, and injects new tension in a region on edge over Mr. Arafat's stated intention to declare a Palestinian state on Israel's borders sometime after Sept. 13.

"After 14 days of intensive negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, I have concluded with regret that they will not be able to reach an agreement at this time," a somber Mr. Clinton told reporters at the White House. He had left Camp David earlier in the morning.

The president expressed hope that the two sides can build on the unprecedented face-to-face encounters at Camp David to reach a peace deal over the next seven weeks.

A top U.S. official will be dispatched to the region in the next few weeks to explore whether and how talks can be resumed, probably early next month.

"The two sides commit themselves to continue their efforts to conclude an agreement on all permanent status issues as soon as possible," the three leaders said in a joint statement after the summit was called off.

"Obviously, the questions around Jerusalem go to the core identity of both the Palestinians and the Israelis," Mr. Clinton said.

Mr. Clinton, who had received only a few hours' sleep since Sunday as he made a final push to get the two sides to agree, said the negotiations at times were "like going to the dentist without having your gums deadened."

But the suspension of the talks now subjects Mr. Barak and Mr. Arafat to hard-line pressures back home exactly the kind of pressures the isolated Camp David setting was designed to prevent.

Both Israeli security officials and the Palestinian Authority announced heightened security measures yesterday as word of the summit breakdown spread.

In addition to Jerusalem, negotiators on both sides said there remain significant gaps between Mr. Barak and Mr. Arafat on the borders of a Palestinian state, the future of Jewish settlements on the West Bank, and the rights of millions of Palestinian refugees around the region who claim homes and property in Israel.

Mr. Barak in particular faces an uncertain reception at home. He staked his 14-month-old government on his pledge to make peace with the Palestinians and with Syria, and has seen his parliamentary majority disappear while progress on both fronts has stalled.

The Israeli leader put the failure to clinch a deal at Camp David on Mr. Arafat's shoulders.

"It's painful to realize that the other side is not ripe for peace, but it's always better to know the realities than to delude ourselves," Mr. Barak said yesterday.

"I still hope that when [the Palestinians] consider what the real alternatives are that await us down the stream, they will have the opportunity to make up their minds once again," said Mr. Barak.

Mr. Arafat did not speak publicly before leaving Andrews Air Force Base about 3 p.m., but he provoked the summit's final crisis just hours after midnight yesterday by accusing Mr. Barak in a letter of not being ready to meet Palestinian demands, including sovereignty over East Jerusalem.

A Palestinian official described Mr. Arafat as "very angry" at the deadlock, which came despite Mr. Clinton's round-the-clock shuttle diplomacy since his return Sunday from the Group of Eight summit in Japan.

Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, who has been at the Maryland retreat almost without a break since July 11, confirmed yesterday that the three sides had concluded by dawn yesterday that not even a partial deal at Camp David would be possible.

In the Middle East, opponents of a peace deal on both sides celebrated the summit's failure.

Hundreds of Palestinians marched in Gaza City, Gaza Strip, calling for a renewal of the "intifada" the violent uprising against Israeli troops in the West Bank and Gaza ended by the 1993 Oslo peace accord.

Separately, the militant Islamic group Hamas demanded that Mr. Arafat resume the armed struggle to reclaim land Palestinians say has been illegally occupied by Israel.

"This failure is another indication that the only choice we have is resistance," said Sheik Ahmed Yassin, spiritual leader of Hamas. "Only by force are we able to retain our rights."

Mr. Barak appeared to win the first round of the post-summit blame game, as Mr. Clinton went out of his way yesterday to praise the Israeli leader's "courage, vision, and understanding" at Camp David.

"I think it is fair to say that at this moment in time … the prime minister moved forward more from his initial position than Chairman Arafat, particularly on the questions of Jerusalem," said Mr. Clinton.

Mr. Barak said his negotiating team "left no stone unturned" in the search for a Camp David agreement. "But it takes two to tango," he said. "We cannot impose [a deal] on them."

Mr. Barak said he would be prepared for a second Camp David summit, calling the compound the "crown jewel of the federal prison system."

Perhaps feeling the negotiating heat, a senior aide to Mr. Arafat stressed yesterday that the Palestinians have not given up on a deal before the Sept. 13 deadline.

Senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat echoed U.S. and Israeli diplomats in arguing that simply laying the most sensitive issues on the table at Camp David constituted progress.

"Prospects for agreement on all permanent status issues are stronger than at any time in almost nine years," he said at a press conference after Mr. Arafat departed.

Mr. Erekat said Mr. Arafat would tour Arab, Islamic and European capitals after his return to Gaza.

"I believe that the continuation of our efforts will produce an agreement no later than September 13," Mr. Erekat said.

• Andrew Cain contributed to this report in Washington.

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