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Monday, 16 October, 2000, 15:37 GMT 16:37 UK
The price of failure
Hamas supporters
The violence threatens to engulf the whole region
By BBC News Online's Kathryn Westcott

Senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat has described the summit in Sharm el-Sheikh as potentially "nightmarish".

But this term could be equally applied to the spectre of continuing violence if the summit fails to at least reach a ceasefire agreement.

The presence at the summit of a number of heavyweight heads of states indicates the fears of the entire region plunging into a cycle of fear and terrorism.

A Jordanian protester
There have been angry street protests in Jordan
Attacks on a US warship and the British embassy in Yemen are signs of how events could spiral out of control.

And the killing of Israeli soldiers in Ramallah by a Palestinian lynch mob and Israel's retaliatory helicopter attacks have raised fears that the Jews and Arabs are heading for a full-scale religious war.

Arab fury

Palestinian frustrations and bitterness over the failure of nine years of talks to bring about peace has also found expression in street protests venting Arab fury.

Arab leaders have shown an uncommon unity, particularly with the likes of Saddam Hussein.

A summit failure could see them resorting to using the price of oil as a weapon with which to strike in favour of the Palestinians.

Ehud Barak
Ehud Barak is fighting for his political survival
For many Palestinians, there is no going back.

They see what has become known as the 'al-Aqsa intifada' as the only way of getting the Israelis to make concessions.

One fear is that the violence and the kidnappings by the Lebanese Hezbullah movement have emboldened Palestinians who feel Israel is not as impregnable as it once was.

Another diplomatic failure could spark further suicide attempts.

Besides the loss of more human life, there could be wider costs if the summit breaks down.

Yasser Arafat

The Palestinian leader has little room for manoeuvre. One of his biggest problems is that the young Palestinians that defy his authority are undaunted by Israel's military might.

Violence has pushed him closer to the radicals, such as Hamas, whose membeers have attended recent cabinet meetings.

Mr Arafat has also been forced to allow members of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which also opposes the Oslo peace process, out of Palestinians jails.

Without a peace process, Mr Arafat's stature on the world stage would be significantly diminished.

Heightened fears that suicide bombers might strike at the heart of Israel could result in Palestinians being barred from working in Israel or selling their goods there. This would further damage the moribund Palestinian economy and further entrench anti-Israeli sentiment.

Israel could resurrect a state of siege on the 60% of the West Bank over which it still has security controls.

Yasser Arafat could unilaterally declare a Palestinian state, but this would be seen as a hostile move by Israel which has said it would respond by annexing parts of the West Bank.

Ehud Barak

A summit failure would increase the chances of the Israeli prime minister bringing Ariel Sharon - one of the country's leading opponents of the Oslo accords - into the government. Mr Barak has already threatened that this would bring "war" to the Palestinians.

The creation of a government of national emergency would be a desperate measure by Mr Barak, who has been accused of offering too many concessions to the Palestinians. The prime minister faces a vote of no confidence by the Israeli parliament, which reconvenes in two weeks.

If a coalition with Mr Sharon's right-wing Likud party were to hit the buffers, Mr Barak would then have to hold elections.

But without an agreement with the Palestinians to take to the country, he would risk being judged on his failures: No peace with the Palestinians and continuing trouble on the country's northern border despite a withdrawal from Lebanon in May.

Hosni Mubarak

The Egyptian public is mounting its most vociferous anti-Israeli protests in years and putting pressure on the Egyptian leader to cut ties with Israel.

Mr Mubarak faces a dilemma. In the absence of a Middle East agreement, should he ignore the mood of his own people and continue to play a key role as peace maker or take a strong stand against Israel?

King Abdullah II

The young king is coming under intense pressure to sever the country's six-year ties with Israel. Almost 50% of Jordanians are Palestinian and public tempers have been running high.

Bill Clinton

It is becoming increasingly likely that the years of dogged effort by the US leader on the Middle East front may not result in the foreign policy triumph he has been struggling for before he leaves office.

He has only three months to rescue a reputation tarnished by domestic matters, such as the Monica Lewinsky affair.

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See also:

14 Oct 00 | From Our Own Correspondent
Only pain uniting the divided
14 Oct 00 | Americas
Mid-East tension ripples in New York
13 Oct 00 | Middle East
In pictures: Anti-Israel protests
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