News Analysis: As Hope Dims for Peace Breakthrough, Peres Seeking Help from Washington

President Bush and Israeli Vice Premier Shimon Peres are to meet at the White House in mid-September, against a backdrop of fading hopes for diplomatic progress in the Israeli-Arab conflict and a Palestinian uprising that is claiming iives and limbs in a relentless daily rhythm.

News of the impending meeting was released here this week, though in Washington, a White House spokesperson could not confirm any such plans Tuesday.

Peres’ aides said the vice premier and finance minister would spend most of his trip conferring with Jewish business leaders and philanthropists, in the hope of launching a $1 billion effort to absorb the tens of thousands of emigrants from the Soviet Union and South America expected to reach Israel during the next few years.

The aides said that the U.S. president, when informed of Peres’ visit, invited him for a political conversation.

The aides do not expect any dramatic developments to come out of the talks. But they said Peres, who heads the Labor Party faction in the national unity government, would urge Bush to intensify American involvement in the quest for peace in the Middle East.

Peres and his party find themselves in a bind at this time, according to Labor insiders.

On the one hand, they vowed to leave the government if its peace plan ran aground. And run aground it plainly has. The United States has been unable to persuade the Palestine Liberation Organization to accept the Israeli peace plan, and contacts between leading local Palestinians and Israeli leaders have produced no tangible progress either.

DISMAY OVER FATAH RHETORIC

On the other hand, Labor is reluctant to exile itself into national opposition, especially with the Histadrut trade union federation elections coming up in November. Labor faces a stiff challenge from Likud, whose stance on the peace process is popular with large sections of the electorate.

This is particularly the case in the wake of the hard-line statements issued by Al Fatah, the largest faction of the PLO, at the conclusion of its convention in Tunis earlier this month.

Although Fatah elected a relatively moderate slate of leaders, its rhetoric was rigidly uncompromising and replete with threats of violent action. It specifically rejected the Israeli peace plan, arguing it would lead to the perpetuation of Israeli “occupation” of the territories.

The Israeli plan, formulated this spring by Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir of Likud and Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin of Labor, calls for Palestinian elections in the West Bank and Gaza Strip to form an interim autonomy regime; talks over a final settlement would begin three years thereafter.

The Fatah convention disappointed not only the dovish side of Israeli political spectrum, but also the Bush administration in Washington. American officials are said to be castigating the Palestinians in private for once again seeming to let a historic opportunity slip by.

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