Barak, Arafat to find hard lines at home

Israeli coalition building, Palestinian statehood weaken peace prospects

July 26, 2000|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

JERUSALEM - If the barriers to peace proved too hard to crack at Camp David, they're unlikely to become any less rigid during the interlude before the process resumes.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak returns to a shattered government that he may not be able to re-create unless he disavows some concessions he made over the past two weeks to the Palestinians.

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat is expected to come home to a hero's welcome for resisting pressure to capitulate over Jerusalem and refugees, and renewed determination to build a state whether Israel agrees or not.

Within hours of the collapse of Camp David negotiations, crowds representing all Palestine Liberation Organization factions were on the streets of the Gaza Strip shouting, "Jerusalem is ours."

In the background lurks the growing threat of violence, which would likely harden public opinion on both sides and shrink the constituency for peace.

Barak left here two weeks ago with a set of "red lines," including keeping Jerusalem united under Israeli sovereignty and allowing no right of return for refugees. Both positions were judged to represent a broad Israeli consensus.

Then, according to repeated leaks to the Israeli press, he either crossed the lines or smudged them in order to get a deal, producing outrage on the Israeli right.

Israeli hawks, who dominated demonstrations and debate over the airwaves during the summit, reacted with relief and recrimination last night.

"What was missed was a disaster that would have torn the nation," said Shaul Yahalom of the National Religious Party, one of three parties that left Barak's coalition before the summit. "We were on the verge of a civil war," he said.

Barak confronts the task of either bringing the defectors back into his government - leaving it as divided and fragile as ever - or trying to form a "national unity" government with the hawkish opposition Likud Party.

Whether he can lure the ultra-religious Shas Party back in will be crucial, as will the price that might entail. This summer, Barak angered his supporters by giving Shas domestic-agenda favors for not leaving the government.

A Likud parliament member served notice that Likud would join the government only if the "red lines" were redefined and tightened, leaving Barak with less maneuvering room to make peace.

"A national unity government can be formed only if there's a common basis of agreed Cabinet guidelines," said Silvan Shalom.

Shalom said that in view of the concessions Barak was prepared to make to Arafat - on top of his willingness to relinquish the Golan Heights to Syria - "there is no common basis at the moment."

Yossi Beilin, one of the doves in Barak's Cabinet, said that bringing Likud into the Cabinet "is telling the world, `Goodbye, peace.'"

Politicians of the left and right called for new elections. But without a peace agreement to run on, this is unlikely to appeal to Barak.

If Barak risked a backlash by showing flexibility at Camp David, Arafat solidified his support by standing firm against combined pressures from Israel and the United States to yield on what Palestinians consider their rights under international law.

"Arafat will be met with greatness. Now the [Palestinian] Authority, the people and the opposition are together in one role behind the president," said Marwan Barghouti, leader of Arafat's Fatah movement in the West Bank.

Barghouti, whose Fatah youth groups led demonstrations in May that escalated into riots and gunbattles, said, "We are ready for everything. We are preparing ourselves from now until September 13 for the establishment of a state and a capital in Jerusalem."

Arafat has vowed to create a state after the agreed peace-process deadline of Sept. 13, a move Barak has threatened will be met by Israeli annexation of territory.

If based on the amount of land gained so far, Arafat's new state will comprise far less than the territory he could have gotten in a peace agreement. And Palestinian analyst Ghassan Khatib warns that Arafat's domestic support comes at the expense of Western government opinion.

President Clinton's mild rebuke of Arafat for failing to match Barak's concessions "will influence world attitudes on the official level," Khatib said, but "the things they want from him are beyond his ability to deliver."

He said that Palestinians believe they have compromised by accepting Israel's existence and agreeing to the terms of U.N. Security Council resolutions 242 and 338, which call for Israel to withdraw from territory occupied in the 1967 war.

The best that can be achieved, he ventured, is a partial accord that falls short of full peace.

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