Clinton Opens Drive for Peace

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

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Clinton launches a hands-on drive Tuesday for peace between Israel and the Palestinians and for a place in history as a peacemaker.

It is not an easy task. By his own and other accounts, no conflict in the world is more intractable.

Clinton hopes to push Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat into an agreement in a little more than a week and then go off to Japan for an eight-nation economic summit.

``This is really, I think, a matter of trying to come to grips with the issues on the merits,'' Clinton said Monday.

He encouraged Barak not to be distracted by his political woes at home, and the Israeli leader again signaled his determination to come to terms with Arafat although he said the outcome could be ``heart-rending'' for Israelis.

The core issues Clinton and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright are set to mediate at the Camp David, Md., presidential retreat have defied solution in the seven years since Israel agreed to begin turning over territory to the Palestinians.

They range from the hot-button issue of Jerusalem, part of which the Palestinians seek for a state but which Barak insists will never be divided, to claims of Arab refugees to homes in Israel from which they say they were ousted at Israel's founding a half-century ago.

Barak has signaled a willingness to expand considerably the 40 percent of the West Bank that Israel already has agreed to surrender and to abandon some settlements in the territory. Few doubt a Palestinian state will emerge in any accord.

But Arafat is holding out for virtually all the West Bank and sovereignty over part of Jerusalem as the capital for a Palestinian state. He has vowed to declare statehood if Israel does not agree to a state by mid-September, the deadline the two sides have set for a settlement.

Barak has signaled through emissaries that he would be willing to expand Palestinian local control in areas of Jerusalem to Arab-populated suburbs. In exchange, he is looking to absorb some close-in Jewish settlements into the Western part of the city.

But Hanan Ashrawi, a spokeswoman for the Palestinians, said Monday: ``We are not interested in the municipal function of responsibilities; we're interested in issues of Jerusalem as sovereignty.''

Ashrawi said while Barak may be a flexible leader, ``if the best is not good enough to achieve a genuine peace, we are not going to have a flawed peace that will lead to conflict.''

Barak barely survived a no-confidence motion in the 120-member Israeli parliament Monday. The opposition, anxious about his projected concessions to Arafat on territory and Jerusalem, outpolled the government, 54-52, but it could not muster the 61 votes needed.

Barak, in a statement before his departure for the summit, told the Israeli people that ``this is the time to take decisions and to bequest a better future to our children.''

Again preparing the people for concessions, he said ``no deal is perfect'' and ``the reality of life is highly complicated.''

Apart from the tough issues, Barak is weighted down with political problems. Three parties have quit his government, concerned he is positioning himself to give up too much, and Foreign Minister David Levy has decided to stay home.

Joel Singer, a lawyer who helped drafted the Oslo accords of 1993 that started Israel on the course of pulling back on the West Bank, said Barak ``clearly does not have a majority in the Israeli Knesset'' and if he had to get approval for the package he is likely to propose to Arafat ``he would fail.''