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Monday, 11 September, 2000, 14:11 GMT 15:11 UK
Clinton's elusive Mid-East dream
President Clinton with Barak (left) and Arafat at Camp David
Camp David: Bonhomie but no breakthrough
By Middle East analyst Roger Hardy

President Bill Clinton had hoped to leave the White House as the man who made the breakthrough towards a final peace settlement in the Middle East.

The groundwork had been laid by his Republican predecessor, George Bush, and Mr Bush's Secretary of State, James Baker.

In the flush of America's victory in the Gulf over the Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, they had convened the Madrid peace conference in 1991, which in turn paved the way for the Oslo peace accord between Israel and the Palestinians two years later.

Palestinian demonstration
Palestinians praised Arafat for standing firm over Jerusalem at Camp David

It was Bill Clinton who nudged a reluctant Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, to set the seal on that accord by shaking hands with his old adversary, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, on the White House lawn.

But building on the Oslo accord proved to be one of the most daunting tasks of the 1990s.

Setbacks

Time and again the peace process has been derailed, whether by the suicide bombers of the militant Palestinian group Hamas, or by the hardline policies of Binyamin Netanyahu, the right-wing Israeli Prime Minister who never really accepted the formula of swapping land for peace.

When Mr Netanyahu was defeated in elections last year by a former general, Ehud Barak, President Clinton's hopes rose. Here at last was a man he could work with, and who seemed to have new and bold ideas about what needed to be done.

The focus of peace-making was initially on wooing Syria's President Hafiz al-Assad. But even before his death in June, that hope had evaporated. And Mr Barak and Mr Clinton abruptly switched their efforts to the Palestinian track of the peace process.


In an effort to force the pace, President Clinton summoned an eager Mr Barak and an unwilling Mr Arafat to the presidential retreat of Camp David, only to find after more than two weeks of intense negotiations that the Palestinian leader stood firm in demanding East Jerusalem - with its important religious sites - as the capital of a future Palestinian state.

Many analysts felt that although the Camp David summit ended in failure, it had elevated negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians to a new plane.

For the first time the two main protagonists had grappled with the hottest and most central issues in the conflict - Jerusalem, refugees, settlements and final borders.

But six weeks later, as world leaders gathered for the UN's Millennium Summit in New York, President Clinton found that the momentum generated at Camp David had been lost, and that the issue of Jerusalem remained as stubbornly intractable as ever.

Diplomatic rivals

Mr Barak and Mr Arafat had spent the intervening period blaming one another and competing for international support, and this had done nothing to soften their positions or make compromise more likely.

As usual in the peace process, deadlines - even those referred to as "sacred dates" - have come and gone.

This week the Palestinians scrapped their 13 September deadline - the date when Arafat had said he would declare a Palestinian state, with or without an agreement with Israel - and replaced it with another in mid-November.

On that date they will review the situation and decide if the time for statehood is ripe.

Time pressure

Mr Barak, too, has had to eat some of his words.

Despite his obvious frustration with what he sees as Mr Arafat's inflexibility, he has now abandoned his original aim - a peace deal in September - and is speaking of a deadline in October.

If there is no deal by the time the Israeli parliament resumes its work at the end of October, time really will have run out - not just for a peace accord during the Clinton presidency, but quite possibly for Mr Barak's minority government, too.

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See also:

11 Sep 00 | Middle East
Arafat applauded for statehood delay
10 Sep 00 | Middle East
'Decisive' push for Mid-East peace
02 Jul 00 | Middle East
Palestinian statehood 'irreversible'
04 Sep 00 | Middle East
Arab League warns on Jerusalem
04 Jul 00 | Media reports
Palestinian leaders share Arafat's vision
20 Jul 00 | Middle East
Analysis: A faltering peace
25 Jul 00 | Middle East
Camp David timeline
Links to more Middle East stories are at the foot of the page.


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