Mideast talks on track

still time for resolution

False deadline: Clinton's last economic summit need not impede Barak and Arafat.

July 18, 2000

SIGNS of momentum in the Camp David talks of Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat are everywhere. They include negative demonstrations by Israeli and Palestinian hard-liners, who are probably well-informed.

Another is that lower-level talks on such practical matters as economics and water sources, which were to begin when the summitry bore fruit, started Sunday in Emmitsburg.

President Clinton set an arbitrary deadline for a framework agreement of tomorrow night, to allow his departure to the G-8 economic summit in Okinawa. This is the last such exercise of his presidency. He should attend and keep his Friday date with Russia's President Vladimir V. Putin.

The Barak-Arafat talks can survive a five-day absence of the president, with U.S. presence in the room. Mr. Clinton will be just a scrambled phone call away. If the principals see fit to leave temporarily, deputies should remain.

Despite the U.S.-imposed news blackout at Camp David, such Israeli newspapers as Jerusalem Post and Ha'aretz have been reporting with seeming authority ideas being kicked around there.

One is that Israel swap land adjoining Gaza to Palestine in return for incorporating West Bank settlements into Israel. Another involves something similar allowing Israeli Jerusalem to be enlarged while Palestine gets a Jerusalem District as capital.

One plan for putting the half-century-year-old Palestinian refugee crisis to rest involves a certain number of family reunions in Israel, a larger amount of Palestinian absorption of refugees and citizenship for others in countries where they live, assisted by a fund to which Israel and the United States would contribute.

Such a proposal would explain the story of U.S. and Israeli diplomats sounding out congressional leadership on willingness to appropriate funds, and that could explain Israel's announcement, obliging Republicans in Congress, that it will not sell command and control aircraft to China.

Egypt's ambassador to Israel has been reported lobbying small parties in Israel's parliament to support the deal, which could explain Mr. Barak's quick visit to President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt on the eve of his departure.

There is no certainty that agreement on these or other ideas will be reached, only growing evidence of a good-faith effort.

President Clinton has previously shown an extraordinary ability to do more than one thing at once, and need not be held to the Jimmy Carter model of concentration. He should keep his appointment in Okinawa, while Mr. Arafat and Mr. Barak keep theirs with destiny.

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