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Tuesday, December 15, 1998 Published at 17:35 GMT


World: Middle East

Analysis: Clinton visit a limited success

Mr Clinton's trip brought little more than symbolic progress

By World Affairs Correspondent Nick Childs

United States President Bill Clinton, on his mission to revive the Middle East peace process, said he had achieved what he had set out to achieve. And, in a very limited sense, that is probably true.

Middle East
He witnessed the Palestine National Council reaffirm its renunciation of clauses in the PLO Charter calling for the destruction of Israel. There is no doubt the move had considerable symbolic and emotional impact, and was the culmination of a visit by President Clinton to Palestinian-controlled Gaza which was itself highly symbolic. As such, the day may have raised great hopes.

Highlighted differences

But the mini-summit between the US, Israeli, and Palestinian leaders seemed to serve only to highlight the differences between the two sides.

Afterwards, Mr Clinton talked of the peace process being back on track. His intervention may have kept it alive. But there is no prospect of the next Israeli redeployment going ahead on schedule on Friday. On that, Mr Clinton would say only that it would be unfortunate it got too far behind schedule.

And the subject of the mini-summit - the Wye River peace accord, reached as a result of intense negotiations only a few weeks ago - was itself a rescue effort.

Demands from both sides

The Israeli Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, used the opportunity of the summit to set out a long list of Israeli demands before there can be any further redeployment - the confiscation of illegal weapons, an end to the incitement of violence, the dropping of plans to declare a Palestinian state unilaterally next May, and acceptance of Israeli criteria on the release of prisoners.

But the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, is under pressure from his own side on the prisoner release issue. And a fragile domestic political situation for all three of the players in this mini-summit will have a considerable bearing on the process from now on.

Mr Netanyahu must deal with his own divided cabinet, and faces a no-confidence vote in the Knesset engineered by right-wing nationalists. His tough approach has clearly produced friction with Mr Clinton. But the US President has growing problems of his own to contend with. He says the US Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, will be returning to the region in a few weeks. But the Clinton administration may have other preoccupations by then.



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