- The Washington Times - Monday, October 16, 2000

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak said yesterday he was pressing ahead with talks on the formation of an "emergency government" with Likud bloc leader Ariel Sharon, a move the Palestinians said would be the end of the peace process.
The remarks came as participants staked out their positions ahead of a summit today in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el Sheik. President Clinton assured Mr. Barak by telephone that there were no preconditions before he flew from Washington yesterday for the summit, an Israeli spokesman said.
U.S. officials were careful not to create high expectations for the summit, intended to put a lid on a Palestinian uprising that has left more than 100 people dead, most of them Palestinians but including three Israeli soldiers who were beaten to death by a mob.
There were doubts yesterday whether the summit would even take place after an aide to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat said Mr. Arafat might not attend because of disagreements over the agenda.
Addressing a cheering crowd later outside his office in Gaza City, Mr. Arafat said, "We will go to the Sharm el Sheik conference but we are going to voice the demands of the Palestinian people."
A claim by the Lebanese guerrilla movement Hezbollah that it had captured an Israeli colonel, in addition to three soldiers it was already holding, also contributed to strained relations.
Mr. Barak confirmed that an army reservist had been kidnapped while abroad on a business trip. "Israel will know how to respond, how to identify who stands behind this matter and to deal with the matter," he said.
The summit is the result of sustained pressure from Mr. Clinton and other world leaders. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak will host the meeting, which will also be attended by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and King Abdullah II of Jordan.
Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, speaking on ABC Television, was asked if she was confident of achieving a cease-fire.
"That's what we hope happens," she said. "I think the important point here is that we do have to try to reduce the violence."
Hopes for a resumption of the peace process that came so tantalizingly close to a deal at Camp David in July are much lower.
Mr. Barak, also interviewed on ABC, said he was engaged in talks with Mr. Sharon on formation of a national unity government because of the violence "created" by Mr. Arafat.
Palestinians hate Mr. Sharon more than any other Israeli leader because of his role in the 1982 invasion of Lebanon, which led to the massacre by a Lebanese Christian militia of hundreds of Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps.
Palestinian leaders blame the latest violence on a high-profile visit by Mr. Sharon to the Temple Mount, a site in Jerusalem's Old City held sacred by both Muslims and Jews.
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat, interviewed yesterday on CNN's "Late Edition," said the Palestinians would not negotiate with a government in which Mr. Sharon was a minister. "If Barak wants to make Sharon his partner [in government], he will not have a [peace] partner in us," he said.
And Mr. Sharon, interviewed on ABC's "This Week," made it clear that before he would take part in a unity government, Mr. Barak would have to scrap most of the proposed concessions he made with Mr. Arafat at Camp David.
He specifically said the Barak government would have to give up any talk about sharing Jerusalem with the Palestinians. "I don't see any possibility to divide Jerusalem. Jerusalem is the holiest city of the Jewish people," Mr. Sharon said.
The former defense minister also said he could not accept Mr. Barak's plan to relinquish control of the Jordan Valley, describing it as a "buffer zone" against Arab attack.
Mrs. Albright said she had no illusions about what might be achieved at Sharm el Sheik but that it was a necessary first step. "We have to reduce the violence so we can get back to the peace process."
On Palestinian concerns about the inclusion of Mr. Sharon in the Israeli government, Mrs. Albright said on ABC that "neither side can choose its partner. You have to deal with the people in office."
Mr. Annan, who has been in the region since last week trying to arrange today's summit, said in Sharm el Sheik that world leaders were concerned about the conflict's impact on oil prices.
"The crisis is not confined to the Palestinian territories or Israel … but it threatens the whole region and extends beyond," he said after talks with Mr. Mubarak.
Russia, officially a co-sponsor of the Middle East peace process with the United States since 1991, played a role in bringing the sides together last week but has not been invited.
Many Palestinians voiced anger at Mr. Arafat's agreement to come to Egypt, accusing him of wasting the sacrifices of more than two weeks of clashes with Israel.
To many Palestinians, the meeting is an attempt to defang an Arab summit scheduled for Oct. 21-22, called to bolster the Palestinians' refusal to accept Israel's terms for peace, notably on the thorny issue of Jerusalem.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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