Arafat, Barak Receive Contrasting Welcomes Both Vow Renewed Efforts for Peace

The Florida Times Union, July 27, 2000 | Go to article overview

Arafat, Barak Receive Contrasting Welcomes Both Vow Renewed Efforts for Peace


GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip -- Fresh from their marathon negotiations at Camp David, Yasser Arafat and Ehud Barak returned home to separate tumultuous welcomes yesterday and pledged renewed efforts to reach a peace agreement despite the summit's failure.

Each side blamed the other for the collapse at Camp David, but both emphasized a wish to avoid violence and manage carefully what could be a volatile period. Even though the two leaders touched down within three hours and a couple of dozen miles of one another, however, their immediate problems could not have looked more different.

Arafat, arriving at the Gaza airport after a stopover in Egypt, was greeted at his beachfront headquarters in Gaza City by thousands of stalwarts, marching bands, chanting children and general bedlam. The cheering was universal and everyone congratulated him on refusing to abandon his core demand for a sovereign east Jerusalem as capital of a new Palestinian state.

"All of us will reach Jerusalem, Jerusalem, Jerusalem, capital of the independent Palestinian state whether they like it or not," Arafat declared. "And if they don't like it, they should drink the seawater at Gaza!"

Still, the Palestinian leader's top aides expressed chagrin at President Clinton's suggestion that intransigence by Arafat was partly to blame -- a judgment that could weigh on Arafat as he presses forward with plans for statehood. And they reassured everyone that the Palestinians are firmly against violence and willing to reopen talks later in the summer.

DOMESTIC PROBLEMS

If Arafat's worries were international, Barak's were decidedly domestic. Protests and demonstrations greeted his return, as well as a threat of political strife that threatens to topple his government, if he cannot reconstruct it first, as early as Monday.

The Israeli leader's arrival at Ben Gurion Aiport near Tel Aviv was a formal affair, attended by a military honor guard, dignitaries -- virtually all of them loyalists -- and his wife Nava. Barak blamed Arafat for the summit's collapse, but, like the Palestinian leader, vowed not to give up hope for an agreement.

"We didn't succeed because the Palestinians haven't yet internalized that for true peace you have to give up on some of the dreams," said Barak. "You have to give and not just to demand."

But after those words, Barak plunged into the open discord of Israeli politics, which have been aggravated by reports that he was ready to make deep concessions at Camp David on territory and control of some neighborhoods in Jerusalem. …

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