No deal for Arafat
January 3, 2001
"In particular, the Palestinians are concerned that
the proposed settlement would create Palestinian
territorial islands separated from each other by
Israeli territory and therefore not viable as a nation.
They object to a proposed land swap that would allow
some Israeli settlers to remain on the West Bank in
exchange for land that the Palestinians claim is
desert and a toxic waste dump."
NO DEAL FOR ARAFAT, CLINTON
By John Diamond
[Chicago Tribune - 3 January 2001]:
WASHINGTON: Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat conferred with
President Clinton into the night Tuesday, seeking details on a
U.S.-authored peace plan that could open the door to a final Mideast
summit before Clinton leaves office.
There was no immediate sign of any imminent peace breakthrough. The
first meeting was in the Oval Office and included Secretary of State
Madeleine Albright, National Security Adviser Samuel "Sandy" Berger
and negotiator Dennis Ross. The second meeting took place in the White
Afterward, White House spokesman Jake Siewert termed the gathering a
"productive meeting" in which Arafat "specifically agreed to intensify
efforts" to reduce violence in the region. Such pledges have been made
before only to dissolve in more violence.
"Words don't matter here. Deeds do," Siewert said. "It will be very
important that the commitments that were made translate into actions
on the ground."
No announcements about further meetings emerged. Clinton intends to
continue his Mideast diplomacy with Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister
Ehud Barak by telephone.
The Israelis and Palestinians had each displayed deep pessimism
Tuesday that a deal could be reached in the next few weeks.
Barak told Clinton by telephone that a peace accord before Jan. 20 was
"impossible" because of continuing violence. Palestinians used the
same word in describing the chances of agreeing to a U.S.-backed deal
that, in their view, condoned illegal Israeli settlements in
With violence in Israel and the Palestinian territories intensifying,
Arafat flew to Washington to question Clinton about the plan the U.S.
president hopes will set the stage for a peace summit as early as next
week. Clinton has only 17 days remaining in office.
Clinton returned Tuesday from a holiday break at Camp David, Md., the
scene of last summer's failed summit. He did not answer reporters'
questions but crossed his fingers when asked about his ongoing Mideast
After meeting for more than two hours, including at least a half-hour
alone with Clinton, Arafat left the White House abruptly and without
comment but then returned late in the evening for another hour of
discussion before leaving again. Clinton did not appear with Arafat at
the door of the West Wing for a photo opportunity, as has been
customary in past visits.
Without using explicit rhetoric, the White House has made it clear in
recent days that Arafat is the obstacle to progress on peace talks.
Clinton has devoted much of his energy in almost daily phone
conversations with the Palestinian leader, pressing and cajoling in
search of a breakthrough.
In a peace process that has worn out phrases such as "last ditch,"
"11th hour" and "make or break," Arafat and Barak confront a narrow
window of opportunity for peace.
Once President-elect George W. Bush is sworn in, U.S. and Mideast
officials predict a slowdown in Washington's efforts to broker peace
as the new administration's foreign policy team deals with more
immediate concerns, such as confirmation hearings for Cabinet
appointees. And Barak, who staked his career on making peace, trails
far behind his conservative opponent, Likud Party leader Ariel Sharon,
in opinion polls leading up to Israel's national elections slated for
At a news conference in Austin, Texas, Bush praised Clinton "for
giving it the very best shot he can."
"He's a man, obviously, who is going to work up to the last minute of
the last day of his administration," Bush said, adding, "I certainly
hope it works."
The incoming administration appears to view Clinton's efforts as
potentially removing one major foreign policy headache from its
Still, Clinton's almost round-the-clock efforts brought to mind
President Jimmy Carter's desperate bid to free the U.S. hostages from
captivity in Iran right up to the moment the inaugural motorcade
arrived at the front door of the White House on Jan. 20, 1981. The
hostages weren't freed until after President Ronald Reagan was sworn
Clinton is trying to arrange a summit meeting next week in Washington
with Barak and Arafat in the hope that at least the broad outline of a
comprehensive peace can be reached.
The proposal would give about 95 percent of the West Bank and Gaza to
the Palestinians as the foundation of their state. A causeway, for use
by Palestinians only, would link the two land blocks. Israel would
retain sovereignty over the holiest site in Judaism, the Western
Wall in Jerusalem's Old City. The Palestinians would gain sovereignty
over the adjacent Al-Aqsa Mosque complex.
In a major stumbling block for the Palestinians, the U.S. plan
supports the "right of return" of several million Palestinian refugees
of Israel's 1948 war for independence, and their descendants, but says
they may return to their "homeland," not necessarily to what is now
Israel. The Israeli government proposes allowing only a limited number
of Palestinians back into Israel; a wholesale return of Palestinians,
Israelis argue, would threaten the Jewish character of the Israeli
Clinton's plan also outlines in vague terms an international security
force that would deploy to the region to act as a buffer between
Israelis and Palestinians.
In seeking a peace summit, the White House is fighting against an
ever-shifting situation on the ground, with each day bringing new acts
The newest uprising erupted Sept. 29 after Sharon made a provocative
visit to Jerusalem's Temple Mount, known to Palestinians as Haram
Ash-Sharif, site of the Al-Aqsa complex. Since then, about 360 people,
most of them Palestinians, have been killed.
On Tuesday, shortly before the Clinton-Arafat meeting began,
Palestinians set off several bombs near Israeli army positions,
prompting retaliatory firing in several locations that left one dead
and seven wounded. Later, Palestinian gunmen ambushed Israeli
motorists along a major highway between Israel and the West Bank,
The possibility that Barak could be replaced by Sharon has led to
speculation that Arafat is anxious to make a deal in the coming weeks
on the assumption that no progress will be possible with the
"I think Arafat is in a hurry," said Khalil Shikaki, a well-connected
Palestinian political analyst and pollster. "He knows that the
intifada could lead to a disintegration of the Palestinian Authority
and that the American willingness to mediate also may not materialize
again with the Bush administration."
Some Palestinian officials termed Arafat's visit with Clinton
"decisive" to the prospects for peace, while others predicted no
immediate breakthroughs prior to Thursday's meeting in Cairo of senior
diplomats from Arab League member nations who have supported the
recent Palestinian uprising.
Arafat arrived with a raft of questions for Clinton about a U.S.
"bridging proposal" designed to lay the groundwork for a final peace
settlement that would end the half-century of conflict.
"This proposal poses a number of serious problems," the Palestinians
said in a list of concerns shared with other key Arab states prior to
the Clinton-Arafat meeting. "The United States proposal seems to
respond to Israeli demands while neglecting the basic Palestinian
need: a viable state."
In particular, the Palestinians are concerned that the proposed
settlement would create Palestinian territorial islands separated from
each other by Israeli territory and therefore not viable as a nation.
They object to a proposed land swap that would allow some Israeli
settlers to remain on the West Bank in exchange for land that the
Palestinians claim is desert and a toxic waste dump.
"It is impossible to agree to a proposal that punishes Palestinians
while rewarding Israel's illegal settlement policies," the
Palestinians said in their critique of the Clinton administration
The Palestinian questions go beyond these issues to cover virtually
every point of the "final status" negotiations, including the
disposition of the Jewish and Arab holy sites within the walled Old
City of Jerusalem; the issue of the right of several million
Palestinian refugees to return to their homes inside Israel; and the
pace with which Israeli troops would withdraw from Gaza and the West
Barak's office issued a statement Tuesday outlining the prime
minister's telephone conversations with Clinton.
"The prime minister made it clear that he has deep doubts over the
seriousness of Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat's
intention to reach an agreement that takes Israel's vital interests
into account," Barak's office said. "Barak made it clear to President
Clinton that Israel intends to continue concentrating on vigorous
counterterrorist activity in the coming weeks and said that it will be
impossible to sign an agreement within the next few weeks."
If Clinton can persuade Arafat to agree to a summit amid a halt to
violence and a resumption of Israeli-Palestinian cooperation against
terrorism, "we would consider the idea," according to Barak's office.