Mideast pact could cost U.S. billions

Tuesday, July 11th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Clinton faces daunting odds

WASHINGTON – The Israeli-Palestinian summit President Clinton is scheduled to convene at Camp David on Tuesday is a long-shot effort at peace whose best outcome could cost American taxpayers billions.

If an agreement is reached, "The United States is going to have to be prepared to take out its wallet, as are the Europeans, as are the Arab governments – the oil producers – as is Japan and others," said Brookings Institution analyst Richard Haass.

If an agreement isn't reached, the price could be renewed violence and perpetuation of the 52-year-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"The failure of Camp David would lead to despair, and despair may lead to violence, to a new eruption of hostilities," Israeli Deputy Defense Ephraim Sneh said on CNN.

Before matters reach that stage, Mr. Clinton hopes to help Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak – who survived a vote of no confidence in the Israeli Parliament on Monday – and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat defy the odds and reach at least a framework agreement on the central issues:

· The size and status of a sovereign Palestinian state that would exist side by side with Israel on the West Bank of the Jordan River.

· The status of, and compensation for, an estimated 3.5 million Palestinian refugees in other countries and about 180,000 Israeli settlers who live on land the Palestinians claim.

· The two sides' rival claims to Jerusalem.

Mr. Clinton hopes to match the diplomatic triumph of former President Jimmy Carter, who used the placid presidential retreat in Maryland's Catoctin Mountains to coax and prod Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat into a historic peace treaty.

He doesn't have much time.

The president is scheduled to fly to Okinawa, Japan, a week after Camp David II begins. And while he could change his schedule or resume the summit when he returns, Sept. 13 looms larger as a deadline. That's when Mr. Arafat has said he will declare a Palestinian state unilaterally if Israel hasn't accepted one.

But if Mr. Clinton is too eager, the price tag could be high, said Zbigniew Brzezinski, who was President Carter's national security adviser and took part in Camp David I.

Financial rewards

"The parties to the conflict this time can try to hijack the U.S. for incredible amounts of money," cautioned Mr. Brzezinski.

Financial rewards weren't supposed to be part of the deal at Camp David I, the former Carter adviser recalled. But since Israel and Egypt signed their peace treaty in 1979, the United States has given them roughly $100 billion in aid combined.

At Camp David II, Mr. Brzezinski said, "I think both sides have exaggerated expectations of billions and billions of dollars, which the president may not be in a position to deny if he is overly eager to get a settlement."

Mr. Haass of the Brookings Institution said the financial demands would include aid to bolster Israel's security and the new Palestinian economy.

The Palestinians also have suggested that $40 billion is needed to resettle and compensate refugees, said Shibley Telhami, who wrote a book on the first Camp David summit.

But the chances of this summit reaching that stage – already dubious – were cast into greater doubt Sunday when Mr. Barak's governing coalition crumbled over fears he might give away too much.

On Monday, Mr. Barak's foes in the conservative Likud Party tried to unseat him with a no-confidence vote. But the former Army chief of staff survived and vowed to do his best to reach an agreement Israeli voters would support.

In search of peace

"The government did not fall, and I am continuing onward to Camp David," Mr. Barak said.

"I am not going alone," he added. "With me are almost 2 million voters . . . citizens who want peace, who want to give change a chance and hope for a different Israel at peace with its neighbors."

Mr. Barak has said he would submit any peace deal to a referendum.

All three leaders are under pressure to get a deal. That's partly because of the Sept. 13 deadline Mr. Arafat has set for declaring a state – a target date for success he and Mr. Barak had agreed to earlier. But it's also because all three are facing the prospect of leaving office.

Pressure on Clinton

For Mr. Clinton, whose final term in office ends Jan. 20, this is probably the last chance he will get to be remembered as a Middle East peacemaker.

"He is, in a sense, fighting for his historical legacy," said Mr. Brzezinski.

For Mr. Barak, who was elected a year ago on a pledge to make peace – and has already withdrawn Israeli troops from Lebanon – the demise of his coalition may make this his last chance to live up to his mandate.

"The sand is rapidly falling through the hourglass on the life span of the government, and it puts pressure on him to get an agreement sooner rather than later," said Alan Makovsky of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

This also may be one of Mr. Arafat's final opportunities to peacefully establish the Palestinian state he has made his life's work. The Palestine Liberation Organization leader turns 71 on Aug. 4 and suffers tremors in his hands and lip – thought by some to be symptoms of Parkinson's disease.

Mr. Arafat also may feel under pressure to get an agreement to avoid having to deliver on his threat to unilaterally declare a state – a move Israel might oppose with force.

"President Arafat is coming to make peace in full readiness, and we are ready to make peace," chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat on CNN. "It's not that we wish to have declaration of the state without reaching agreement, but we cannot have an open-ended negotiation."

So most analysts expect that while complete success is unlikely, the three leaders at least will reach an agreement of some sort to avoid a total breakdown of the peace process.

Israel already has signaled it is willing to make concessions, such as giving the Palestinians more of the West Bank and Gaza.

The Palestinians have been less flexible in public, insisting that a final deal must fulfill United Nations resolutions that would give them 100 percent of the territories Israel occupied after winning the 1967 Arab-Israeli War.

Mr. Clinton said he called the summit because Israeli and Palestinian negotiators had reached an impasse only the leaders themselves could break.

"We will be at Camp David in a secluded and comfortable place, and we think that that changes the dynamic," said Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

But Mr. Telhami said, "Unofficially, there's been a loosening of positions, and there are contours that are emerging on the major issues, and there are gaps that could certainly be bridged."

Besides, he said, both Mr. Barak and Mr. Arafat "desperately need an agreement." The alternative, Mr. Telhami noted, "is potentially disastrous."