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Boston Globe On-Line

Both sides prepare for violence if Mideast talks fail
By Charles M. Sennott, Globe Staff, 7/11/2000

JERUSALEM - In the weeks leading up to the make-or-break summit set to get
underway today at Camp David, it has sometimes seemed as if the Israelis
and Palestinians were preparing for a battle, not peace.

The saber rattling by both Palestinian and Israeli military establishments
underscores just how decisive the Camp David summit is expected to be, and
how close the sides were to despair before President Clinton announced the
summit last week. If the talks fail, many observers believe a steep
escalation of violence will be inevitable.

To prepare, the Israelis have been training army troops how to take over
Palestinian villages and are readying tanks and machine-gun helicopters.
They also, for the first time, began distributing ''rubber bullets,''
steel bullets encased in hard plastic, to Jewish settlers in the West
Bank, military officials said.

''We have reached the end of the corridor with the Palestinians,'' was the
way Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, a former general, put it recently.
Failure to reach an agreement will launch a ''countdown toward a bloody
conflict,'' he said.

Gauging by their actions, Palestinian security officials seem to agree.
In Palestinian-ruled areas of Ramallah and Gaza City, police forces, which
Israeli analysts say have the size and look of several army divisions,
have been undergoing formal military training.

The Palestinian forces, clad in blue combat fatigues, are purportedly
beefing up their supply of machine guns, antitank missiles, armored
vehicles, and transport helicopters.

The so-called Fatah Tanzim, fighters who number in the hundreds and are
aligned with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's powerful Fatah party, have
been stockpiling MP-5 submachine guns. In a briefing for foreign
reporters, Israeli security officials said the weapons were smuggled from
Egypt and Jordan in violation of the interim peace agreement.

Arafat raised the stakes by saying that he will declare a Palestinian
state in September or at the end of the year regardless of where the peace
negotiations stand. If that happens, Israel has vowed to respond by
annexing parts of the West Bank.

If that scenario plays out, it would almost certainly begin a convulsive
cycle of violence. Saeb Erekat, one of the key negotiators at the talks,
reflected the Palestinian frustration after six years of arduous
negotiations in an unusually combative interview with Israeli television
Friday night. He labeled Israel a society of ''fascists and racists'' and
suggested that Palestinians are at the end of their rope.

''I'm sick and tired [that] when I want to travel to Jordan, I still have
to have your permission to exit or to use the Gaza airport,'' Erekat told
the Israeli interviewer. ''I'm sick and tired of you in your uniforms. I'm
sick and tired of Israelis with their guns.''

The frayed emotions and looming threat of conflict may have, at least for
now, one beneficial effect: They serve as a stark reminder to the
negotiators at Camp David that compromise now may be the only way to avoid
a new spiral of violence.

This story ran on page A13 of the Boston Globe on 7/11/2000.