Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Japan-Bound Clinton Signaling Last Call Most Likely Deal: The One to Meet Again

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Japan-Bound Clinton Signaling Last Call Most Likely Deal: The One to Meet Again

Article excerpt

THURMONT, Md. -- According to the White House script, today is decision day for Israelis and Palestinians at Camp David after a week of intensive peace talks.

President Clinton has signaled he expects to leave tomorrow for the economic summit in Okinawa, Japan.

"I expect after the president leaves, the parties will have wrapped up their business," said White House spokesman Joe Lockhart.

But outside Camp David, few analysts think Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat will reach a sweeping deal in the next few days to end the Middle East conflict. Observers do think the men will reach some sort of agreement before they return home, to try to prevent a fresh outbreak of violence in the region.

"No matter what the outcome, there will be another round of negotiations, " said Gabriel Ben-Dor a political scientist at Israel's Haifa University. "The question is how soon and under what conditions."

The summit began July 11 in an effort to resolve key outstanding issues between Palestinians and Israelis.

They include agreeing on the borders of a Palestinian state; determining the future of Palestinian refugees and Jewish settlers in the West Bank and Gaza; and the status of Jerusalem, which is claimed by both people as their capital.

Although Clinton seems to be sticking to his schedule to leave tomorrow for Japan, he could still decide to send Vice President Al Gore in his place, if he thinks his presence at the talks would lead to a breakthrough.

Despite Lockhart's statement yesterday, Clinton also could go to Japan and leave Barak and Arafat to keep working without him for four days. The leaders also could decide to return home and leave their negotiating teams to keep talking.

But whether Clinton stays or goes, he likely will broker some kind of agreement -- even if it is an agreement for the sides to keep working, now or in coming weeks.

"It's not all or nothing." said Barry Rubin, a political scientist at Bar-Ilan University's BESA Center for Strategic studies near Tel Aviv. "There won't be a comprehensive peace agreement. That's not the goal. The goal is to show you are taking a step forward. Either way, they [Israelis and Palestinians] can handle it to avoid a crisis."

Since all parties have agreed not to discuss the talks, it is difficult to know how close they are to resolving their differences or what kind of proposals the Americans have offered to push the two sides toward compromise. …

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