- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 7, 2000

NEW YORK President Clinton turned intense pressure on Israel and the Palestinians to settle their differences yesterday, telling the U.N. Millennium Summit with the leaders of both camps in attendance there was "not a moment to lose."

Speaking later to reporters before a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Mr. Clinton referred to a "calendar [of] political realities" that is "ticking" in the Middle East, and said, "There's a limit to how much time they have, and it is not much longer."

The president repeated that message in separate meetings at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel later yesterday with both Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, who have not held a face-to-face meeting since the Camp David summit in mid-July.

However, there was no sign of sufficient progress in the talks with Mr. Clinton to make it likely that they would be able to resume direct negotiations.

"We did not expect today to be a day when we would have a breakthrough, and that is true," White House spokesman Joe Lockhart told reporters yesterday evening.

"On the other hand, the process has not broken down."

Mr. Lockhart added that "the parties remain committed to finding an agreement and working through the process."

Mr. Barak and Mr. Arafat actually met by chance in the corridors yesterday of the U.N. complex, speaking for several minutes privately before moving on. Israeli radio reports said the exchange did not last long enough to go into extensive detail on such complicated issues as the future of Jerusalem or the status of Palestinian refugees.

However, hopes were slim that the two Middle East leaders would offer concessions in their talks with Mr. Clinton, making it possible to resume direct negotiations.

Neither Mr. Arafat nor Mr. Barak signaled any new compromises in their speeches to the millennium assembly. Both spoke of the need for peace but appealed to the world community for support for their existing positions.

Mr. Barak, Mr. Arafat and Mr. Clinton all face deadlines that suggest the window for a settlement ending 50 years of hostility between Jews and Arabs will close within weeks.

Mr. Arafat, who has been backing away from a long-standing pledge to declare a Palestinian state on Sept. 13, told the summit the Palestinian Central Council which meets Saturday would decide "in the next few days" whether to go ahead with the declaration or to respect international appeals to keep working for an agreement.

But even if the date is pushed back to mid-November as expected, few analysts believe Mr. Arafat can afford politically to postpone a declaration past the end of the year.

Showing the diplomatic pressures Mr. Arafat is under, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak yesterday warned that the Arab world would not accept any peace deal that gave Israel sovereignty over Islamic holy sites in Jerusalem.

Mr. Barak, for his part, has been reduced to minority government status following defections from his coalition over concessions offered at the Camp David talks. The parliament is expected to vote for new elections when it resumes sitting in late October, and Mr. Barak will be hard-pressed to win re-election without a peace deal to show for his efforts.

Mr. Clinton is also running out of time, with little chance of serving as an effective mediator after his successor is chosen in the November election. The next president will require months before he could devote the sort of attention to the issue that Mr. Clinton has.

In his remarks to the U.N. Millennium Summit yesterday, Mr. Clinton noted that Mr. Barak and Mr. Arafat had promised to resolve the final differences between them this year.

Addressing the supporters of both Israel and the Palestinians, he said: "They need your support now, more than ever, to take the hard risks for peace. They have the chance to do it. But like all life's chances, it is fleeting and about to pass. There is not a moment to lose."

The president took up that theme again when he spoke to reporters before his meeting with Mr. Putin.

"The main thing they have to decide is whether there is going to be an agreement within the real calendar, which is the calendar that is ticking in the Middle East against the political realities in Israel, as well as for the Palestinians," he said.

"There's a limit to how long they have, and it's not very much longer."

Mr. Barak indirectly acknowledged those realities in his own address to the summit, saying he and Mr. Arafat "are at the Rubicon, and neither of us can cross it alone."

"History will judge what we do in the next days and weeks: Were we courageous and wise enough to guide our region across the deep river of mistrust into a new land of reconciliation, or did we shrink back at the water's edge, resigned to lie in wait for the rising tide of bloodshed and grief?"

Mr. Arafat, in his speech, said, "We shall do our utmost in the coming short period of time to arrive at a final settlement between the Palestinians and the Israelis, and we invite the Israeli government to do likewise."

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