Appointment at Camp David

President Clinton: Convening Mideast summit is taking a high risk for high reward.

July 06, 2000

JULY IS not everyone's favorite time to visit the lovely Catoctin hills north of Frederick. Too hot and humid. Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat are no strangers to discomfort, however. Both have spent careers in less than optimal conditions.

President Clinton's announcement of a summit meeting with the Israeli prime minister and Palestinian Authority president starting Tuesday at the presidential retreat, Camp David, is a considered -- not quite desperate -- attempt to get stalled talks moving.

This is not a scenario in which lower officials have hammered out the deal before the leaders put their seals on it. Rather, it is an attempt to lunge out of the quagmire. Some will say it is President Clinton's last gasp to do something memorable for history. But the exercise entails high risk for great benefit. It may fail.

The hopes of the world, of most Israelis and most Palestinians, will attend the three men at Camp David. The setting evokes memories of the meetings there of Egypt's Anwar Sadat, Israel's Menachem Begin and President Jimmy Carter in 1978, which foreshadowed the treaty between Israel and Egypt the following year.

Mr. Barak and Mr. Arafat are dealing with recalcitrant supporters. Each risks overthrow for softness. But it has been seven years since Mr. Arafat committed the PLO to peace. And a year since Mr. Barak was elected to consummate it.

The extent of Israeli withdrawal, the fate of settlements, East Jerusalem, sources of water and guarantees of security are great issues that defy accord. The impasse is not frivolous. The self-imposed deadline of Sept. 13 for agreement appears unrealistic.

What is needed is not a deal between two men, but an accommodation between two peoples that will survive the leaders who negotiated it. Mr. Clinton deserves credit for pushing matters and men forward. They have come too far not to go the last mile.

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