Expectations low for Clinton-Barak meeting

JERUSALEM, April 9 (JTA) — One day after President Clinton invited Prime Minister Ehud Barak to meet with him at the White House this week, Barak downplayed any likelihood that the meeting Tuesday would result in breakthroughs with Syria or the Palestinian Authority.

Barak’s office said Sunday he and Clinton are expected to discuss Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, which resumed last Friday in Washington, and Barak’s plan to withdraw Israeli troops from southern Lebanon by July.

The Israeli-Palestinian negotiations entered their second round at Bolling Air Force Base in Washington, but with little progress reported.

During a visit to Cairo on Sunday, Arafat said those talks were “just chat” and had made no headway.

The two sides are trying to reach a framework agreement for a peace accord by May, and the full accord by September.

Meanwhile, where the Syrian track is concerned, Barak told his Cabinet on Sunday he is pessimistic that the deadlocked negotiations with Damascus would resume any time soon.

Following the failure of a Geneva summit late last month, when Clinton and Syrian President Hafez Assad were unable to find a formula for resuming Israeli-Syrian talks, Israel has begun seeking international support for a unilateral pullback from southern Lebanon.

The Israeli daily Ha’aretz reported Sunday that Barak was considering whether to seek American aid to help pay for the pullout and the Israeli army’s redeployment along the international border.

The paper quoted sources in the Prime Minister’s Office as saying U.S. officials had initiated Clinton’s summit with Barak out of concern for the stalemated Israeli-Syrian talks and rising tensions surrounding the Lebanon withdrawal.

To punctuate those tensions, Hezbollah gunmen in Lebanon fired a Katyusha rocket into northern Israel. There were no reports of casualties from Sunday’s attack.

Israeli-Syrian negotiations broke off in January after Israel refused to commit to a full withdrawal from the Golan Heights. Syria wants a return to the boundary that existed before the 1967 Six-Day War, which would give Damascus the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee.

Israel, which demands full control of what is its most significant water source, suggested trading land elsewhere for the slim strip of shoreline.

Meanwhile, Israel has refused to react officially to a proposal put forward by a British journalist and confidant of Assad to end the deadlocked Israeli-Syrian peace talks.

Patrick Seale’s proposal, which he described as a “personal initiative,” calls for granting Israel sovereignty over the Sea of Galilee, Syria sovereignty over the northeastern shore and both countries free access to the area.

Barak’s top security adviser, Danny Yatom, said it is too early to comment on the idea. But he reiterated Israel’s position that it would not turn over control over any portion of the Sea of Galilee.

Foreign Minister David Levy said the only way to resolve the matter was through direct negotiations with Damascus.

“Peace is made when you sit down and talk face to face. Not through telepathy, not through faxes, and I’ll say today, not through a journalist,” Levy told Israel Radio.

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