- The Washington Times - Friday, July 7, 2000

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, the man who pressed hardest for next week's Camp David summit with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, Thursday gave the meeting only a 50-50 chance of succeeding.

As U.S. officials prepare to greet senior Palestinian and Israeli negotiators here this weekend in advance of the summit, Mr. Barak found himself at the forefront of a campaign to lower expectations that the gathering would clinch a peace deal.

"Fifty percent a toss of the coin," Mr. Barak told an interviewer on Israel's Army Radio Thursday when asked to assess the chances for a breakthrough at Camp David.

"There is no doubt that this time we will be forced to make very painful decisions," said Mr. Barak, who is facing a revolt from right-wing parties in his own government over his decision to attend the summit that begins Tuesday.

"I don't even know if there will be an agreement."

Clinton administration officials acknowledge privately that the summit represents a huge gamble, with potentially violent consequences in the Middle East if the talks break down.

A U.S. official privately put the chance of a concrete agreement on the core issues the status of Jerusalem, the fate of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, the final borders of a Palestinian state at one in three.

The uncertainty prompted suggestions of holding yet another summit this summer to follow the one beginning next week an idea backed strongly by Mr. Arafat.

The parties face a Sept. 13 deadline to resolve the so-called "final status" issues, ones that have eluded compromise in 52 years of Israeli-Palestinian strife.

Palestinian officials agreed to the summit only reluctantly, fearing Mr. Arafat will come under heavy pressure from President Clinton to compromise.

But aides to Mr. Arafat sounded a slightly more positive note Thursday.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat predicted that a second summit would almost certainly be needed after Camp David.

U.S. aides were working overtime Thursday preparing for the talks, scouting out sites near the secluded Maryland presidential retreat to brief the expected heavy contingent of reporters eager for news of the talks.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said this weekend's talks of senior Israeli and Palestinian officials would be substantive and would try to define the issues that the three leaders will have to decide starting Tuesday.

Mr. Clinton has promised to devote a large chunk of his time to the Camp David negotiations before he is scheduled to leave for the Group of Eight summit in Japan, July 19. Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright will be a "constant presence" at the talks, her spokesman said Wednesday.

The summit already has caused one diplomatic headache for the White House, as Mrs. Albright will miss next week's traditional meeting of foreign ministers from the so called G-8 nations an event that precedes the annual economic talks of presidents and prime ministers.

The group consists of the seven leading industrial nations plus Russia. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott will take Mrs. Albright's place.

Japanese organizers of the summit were clearly unhappy with the switch.

"Honestly speaking, it would be difficult for the U.S. view to have its way because the United States will be represented by a non-minister at a ministerial meeting," Deputy Foreign Minister Yoshiji Nogami told reporters in Japan Thursday.

Mr. Boucher said the secretary regretted not being able to attend the G-8 meeting and had talked for half an hour on the phone with Japanese Foreign Minister Yohei Kono Wednesday evening to explain why she could not go.

The pressures facing Mr. Barak are far more substantial.

Carrying through on its threat, the five-seat National Religious Party (NRP) announced Thursday it was pulling out of Mr. Barak's government.

"We cannot be associated with a move that we reject totally, which will divide the people and threaten the security of the country," said Israeli Housing Minister Yitzhak Levy, leader of the NRP.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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