Optimism low on success of today's summit

Monday, October 16th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Oslo peace process may be lost, Mideast leaders tell news shows

By Richard Whittle / The Dallas Morning News

WASHINGTON – The herculean task facing President Clinton and other leaders at Monday's emergency Middle East summit in Egypt was on full display Sunday.

In separate appearances on America's TV talk shows, Israeli and Palestinian leaders blamed one another for the violence that has wracked the Holy Land during the last two weeks, issued demands and warned that the Oslo peace process may be beyond repair.

"We are sitting down in order, first of all, to put an end to the violence," Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak said on ABC-TV's This Week. Mr. Barak said Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat "deliberately launched" the violence "to attract the attention of the world by paying with the blood of his own people."

"I cannot predict what shape the peace process will take in the future," Mr. Barak said. "It's no secret that the imprint of the last few weeks might leave some scars on the collective psyche of Israelis and Palestinians. It won't be easy to resume it."

Appearing on the same show, Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat blamed the visit of Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon to a Muslim holy site on Sept. 28, Israel's "siege" of Palestinian communities in the West Bank and Gaza Strip after riots began, and its use of heavy weaponry for the bloodshed.

"The whole world knows how this began," Mr. Erekat declared, adding ominously, "I don't think we have seen the worst yet."

Mr. Barak said the Israelis expect Mr. Arafat not only to put a stop to Palestinian rioting but also to recapture and imprison dozens of militants from the groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad whom the Palestinians released after the uprising began.

The prime minister also said Israel wants Mr. Arafat to disarm a paramilitary group known as Tanzim that has engaged in gun battles with Israeli troops.

The Palestinians have demanded that Israel withdraw its troops from around Palestinian-controlled cities and lift a blockade of the borders that has kept thousands of Palestinians from going to jobs in Israel.

Mr. Arafat also has called for an international inquiry into the cause of the violence. Israeli leaders insist they will cooperate only with a fact-finding inquiry led by the United States.

'Exit strategy'

Mr. Erekat declared that Mr. Barak's invitation Saturday to Likud Party leader Sharon to join him in an emergency coalition government showed the Israeli prime minister was pursuing an "exit strategy from the peace process."

"If General Sharon is going to be Barak's partner, I can tell you, we no longer have a partner in Israel," Mr. Erekat said. "Sharon is the kiss of death to the peace process."

Mr. Sharon, a former army general who led Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon, is widely despised by Palestinians, who blame him for the massacre of hundreds of Palestinian refugees by Lebanese Christian militiamen during that conflict.

Mr. Clinton and other leaders – Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, Jordan's King Abdullah and a European Union representative – organized the summit in hopes of stopping the bloodshed and resuscitating a peace process that appears to be on life-support systems.

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said on This Week that U.S. officials "don't have illusions about the summit."

In announcing the meeting Saturday, Mr. Clinton said his goals were to stop the fighting and try to establish some "fact-finding mechanism" to assess how it started and how to prevent it in the future.

The violence has largely subsided since Thursday, when it reached the heights that led Mr. Mubarak to propose the emergency summit. That day, a Palestinian mob killed two Israeli soldiers. In retaliation, Israeli helicopter gunships rocketed various Palestinian Authority buildings.

Two Israeli soldiers were slightly wounded by gunfire Sunday near the West Bank town of Jericho, but no major clashes were reported.

National Security Adviser Sandy Berger said on Fox-TV's Fox News Sunday that the administration's chief goal was to establish a "cooling-off period."

But he said the ultimate goal was to revive the Oslo plan to reach a final settlement based on Israel trading land to the Palestinians for peace.

Mr. Clinton convened Mr. Barak and Mr. Arafat at the Camp David presidential retreat in July for a 15-day summit that he hoped would result in a final deal and avoid the sort of explosion that erupted last month. But the attempt foundered on the issue of Jerusalem, which both sides claim as their capital.

"At some point, whether it's a week or a month or a year, I believe it's important for the parties to find a negotiated solution," Mr. Berger said. "It will be difficult to resume negotiations for a peace agreement quickly."

'A different way'

Appearing on This Week, Mr. Sharon spoke of the Oslo process, which he and others in his hard-line party have opposed, as already dead, though he said he supported the Sharm el-Sheikh summit.

"If we can bring an end to bloodshed, I think we have to do it," Mr. Sharon said. "But we have learned by now that we have to look for a different way in order to reach peace."

Mr. Sharon denied that his September visit to a holy site in Old Jerusalem that Jews call the Temple Mount and Muslims call the Noble Sanctuary provoked the violence, as the Palestinians contend. And the Likud leader said it was Mr. Arafat "who really brought [the] Oslo process to its end."

In separate appearances on Fox News Sunday, meanwhile, former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and chief Palestinian spokeswoman Hanan Ashrawi offered another taste of the venom and mistrust that separate the two sides.

U.S. involvement

Mr. Netanyahu, a former Likud leader whom peace activists accused of undermining the Oslo process while he was prime minister from 1996 to 1999, said the violence had been "fomented and organized and incited by Mr. Arafat and the Palestinian Authority."

"They're the ones who started it, they're the ones who continue it," Mr. Netanyahu said, saying Palestinian youths had been "cynically thrust by the Palestinian dictatorship into the front line."

Mr. Netanyahu said Israel – whose military is widely regarded as the most powerful in the Middle East, thanks in part to billions of dollars a year in U.S. aid – "has not even used one iota, a fraction of a fraction, of the power that we have."

And he said if the Palestinians continue down the path of violence, the situation could evolve into "the only kind of peace that dictatorships understand, which is the kind of peace you have between North Korea and South Korea – peace based on South Korean deterrence backed up by U.S. support."

Ms. Ashrawi, appearing after Mr. Netanyahu, seethed as she replied to his remarks. "Nobody sends kids out [to fight]," she insisted. "The Israeli army, which is an occupation army on our land, started shooting our kids and shooting at us."

She also contended that the United States, which has served as guarantor and mediator in the Oslo peace process since 1993, had abandoned its role as honest broker.

"How can you have a peace process where the sponsor says that they're in alliance with one side and they put pressure on the other side?" she demanded.