Israeli Media Watch II: Israeli Pundits See No Peace with Palestinians or Syria, despite U.S. Pressure in Clinton's Final Year

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ISRAELI MEDIA WATCH II: Israeli Pundits See No Peace With Palestinians or Syria, Despite U.S. Pressure in Clinton's Final Year

By Nathan Jones

Nathan Jones is a free-lance writer specializing in Israel and North American Jewish affairs.

Israel's highly politicized media analysts don't agree on much, but in dealing with the "peace process" and "the Palestinian track" they start from a set of assumptions far removed from those of American editorial writers and commentators. While the Americans seem mesmerized by the whirlwind of activity whipped up by President Bill Clinton's pressure on Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and the State Department's "Middle East peace team," the Israelis see unbridgeable gaps between themselves on the one hand and Palestinians and Syrians on the other. Israeli commentators also warn that in dealing with White House pressure for substantive concessions that would lead to a Middle East "legacy," for Clinton, Prime Minister Ehud Barak's government will fall if he tries to give away more than Israelis will accept.

In Israel's mass-circulation Yediot Ahronot, Zalman Shoval, the previous Likud government's ambassador to Washington, wrote on June 15: "President Clinton and Secretary Albright say that the `moment of truth' on the Palestinian track is now. And they have their reasons. The Americans have made up their minds to shift the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations to high gear so that an agreement is signed before President Clinton vacates the White House. This indeed is a moment of truth for Israel, too -- but for altogether different reasons. Can a responsible Israeli prime minister agree to hand the Palestinians 90 to 95 percent of Judea, Samaria and Gaza land? Can an Israeli leader even think of letting 100,000 or more Arab refugees into the country? Can the leader of the Jewish people offer the Palestinians practical control over large chunks of Jerusalem? Those are but a few of the questions an Israeli leader ought to answer now that the `moment of truth' is around the corner. The Americans must face another issue: The vote in the Knesset last week in favor of early elections indicated that the prime minister has lost the confidence of a large number and even perhaps of the vast majority of the people, and that even if Barak's coalition manages to limp along for a while, the countdown for the election of a new leadership has begun."

Writing on the same day in pluralist Ma'ariv, nationalist analyst Uri Dan saw less likelihood that Israel can extract from Yasser Arafat as favorable an agreement as it might have before Barak decided to try "the Syrian track" six months ago. Dan wrote: "The damage caused by the IDF's overnight flight from Lebanon is tremendous. So great, in fact, that Arafat told Clinton that the Palestinians want him to repeat the success of Hezbollah against Israel. Others tell him that if Barak is willing to return 99.9 percent of the Golan to the Syrians, why should Arafat settle for less than all the territories up to the June 4 lines? Consequently, if in the past there had been a slight chance that Arafat might come to a territorial agreement with Barak, now the chances of this are practically zero."

"Arafat now holds the key to the peace process, exclusively."

Analyst Aluf Benn saw the death of President Hafez Al-Assad of Syria as further lessening the hope of any substantive Middle East peace agreement during President Clinton's remaining months in office. He wrote in the independent Ha'aretz June 13: "Ehud Barak was forced this week to forget about his dream of making peace with `the builder of modern Syria. …