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Clinton Faces Tight Summit Deadline
The Associated Press, Tue 11 Jul 2000


WASHINGTON (AP) After more than a half century of conflict and
countless failed negotiations, Israeli and Palestinian leaders have
just eight fateful days, if that long, to find a lasting peace.
Some Mideast experts fear that's not enough time.

For the record, President Clinton said there was no timetable for
completing the talks beginning Tuesday at the presidential retreat
in Maryland's Catoctin Mountains. But a de facto deadline looms July
19 when Clinton is supposed to fly to Japan for the annual summit of
major industrialized nations. White House officials said he intended
to keep that appointment.

``If everything breaks right and that usually doesn't happen
about the seventh or eighth day, I would guess, you will know
whether you're going to get there or not. But you won't be there,''
said Samuel Lewis, the U.S. ambassador to Israel from 1977 to 1985
and a veteran of the Camp David summit 22 years ago that produced
the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt.

If Clinton leaves for Japan, the fear is that Israeli Prime Minister
Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat will wander from
Camp David, visiting Washington, going to New York, taking stock
about how things look back home, leaking details and making
compromise all the more difficult.

``And if they come back after a break, you will have gone backward
at least half the distance if not all the distance and the positions
will have hardened,'' Lewis said. ``So it's really unfortunate about
this timing.''

The Japan summit isn't the only reason for staring at the clock.
With his government in tatters, Barak may find it impossible to
linger in the United States while right-wing opponents campaign
against him at home.

Arafat, too, has cause to be restless. He was reluctant to go to
Camp David in the first place, fearing he would come under pressure
to make unacceptable concessions on Jerusalem and Palestinian
statehood.

And time is running out for Clinton. He has less than seven months
in office to make his mark in history as a Middle East peacemaker.
``Look, if this were easy, it would have been done a long time
ago,'' Clinton said. He said the Middle East poses ``perhaps the
most difficult of all the peace problems in the world.''

For a president often criticized for ignoring foreign policy,
Clinton is credited nonetheless with investing a lot of time on the
Middle East, visiting the region more than any other U.S. president.
He has spent countless hours in telephone diplomacy, in one-on-one
meetings and in three-way negotiating sessions.

He coaxed Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin to shake hands at the White
House, sat with Arafat and Benjamin Netanyahu at the Wye River
plantation on Maryland's Eastern Shore and shuttled to
Sherpherdstown, W.Va., to oversee Israeli-Syrian negotiations.

The Camp David negotiations probably are Clinton's last chance for a
Mideast agreement. The outlook is grim if the talks fail. Arafat may
carry out his threat to declare a Palestinian state, possibly as
early as Sept. 13. Israel could respond by annexing land containing
Jewish settlements in the West Bank. In that scenario, there is a
high risk of violence.

``If this thing falls apart then there's going to be a lot of nasty
stuff going on in the region,'' said Lewis, the former ambassador.
But despite the high stakes, analysts say there is little risk
politically for Clinton. If an agreement is signed, it's a triumph
for Clinton. If the talks fail, the blame is likely to fall on Barak
and Arafat.

``I don't see how we can even talk about risks of an American
president trying against very, very difficult odds to help bring in
a peace in a very troubled and important part of the world,'' said
Stephen Hess, a presidential scholar at the Brookings Institution, a
Washington think tank.

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