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World tells Arafat to talk to Israel

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JERUSALEM, Aug. 14 (JTA) — Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat’s globetrotting has not paid off.

Following the collapse of the Camp David summit, Arafat traveled to some 20 countries to drum up support for his making a unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state.

But the message he got from Europe’s capitals, and from Moscow and Beijing as well, was essentially the same: Go back to the negotiating table with Prime Minister Ehud Barak.

Nor was the message any different in most of the Arab states Arafat visited in hopes of shoring up support.

Palestinian statehood, he was told, should emerge as a result of an agreement with Israel.

No wonder, then, that there has been growing talk this week of another Barak-Arafat summit.

Barak’s security adviser, Danny Yatom, spoke Monday about the possibility of another U.S.-sponsored summit. He said President Clinton would likely “decide on the fate of another summit” after U.S. Middle East envoy Dennis Ross visits the region in the coming days.

Israel’s acting foreign minister, Shlomo Ben-Ami, also discussed the possibility of a summit, saying Monday that it could be held sometime in September, depending on how the two sides work before then.

Ben-Ami made the comment while visiting Italy, his latest stop on a tour of European nations to present the Israeli side following the collapse of the Camp David summit.

Not to be outdone by Arafat’s criss-crossing of the globe, Barak recently dispatched several ministers and advisers to present Israel’s case to the world.

In addition to Ben-Ami, ministers Shimon Peres, Yossi Beilin and Amnon Lipkin-Shahak reminded world leaders of the concessions Barak had been willing to make at Camp David. They also portrayed Arafat — as Clinton had done in the summit’s immediate aftermath — as the one who had been unwilling to go the necessary extra mile for peace.

For his part, Yatom went on a mission to the Persian Gulf, where he met with the foreign ministers of Bahrain and Oman.

Clinton, meanwhile, is reportedly willing to host another summit, but only if the two sides are ready to settle all the outstanding issues — particularly the fate of Jerusalem, which by all accounts was what led to the failure of the previous summit.

As Ben-Ami said this week, “This time we cannot risk another failure.”

Of all the world leaders Arafat has met with in recent days, the one with perhaps the most impact on his thinking is Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

Arafat needs Mubarak’s backing for whatever steps he is about to take, and Mubarak gave a strong indication Sunday that the Palestinian leader would postpone a unilateral declaration of statehood.

Mubarak also ruled out the possibility of any Palestinian concessions regarding the status of Jerusalem, saying the city is “Arab land and no one can retreat on this issue.”

Just the same, there are those who believe that Mubarak may be more flexible.

Israel Television’s Arab affairs analyst, Ehud Ya’ari, reported this week that Mubarak is working out a bridging proposal for the Jerusalem issue.

According to Ya’ari, Mubarak has suggested that Israel and the Palestinians should reach an agreement that would leave open the question of sovereignty in Jerusalem.

American pressure has apparently made Mubarak more amenable to making concessions where Jerusalem is concerned.

Following the failure of the Camp David summit, Clinton did not hide his disappointment with Mubarak’s failure to contribute to the talks’ success.

For its part, the Egyptian press was up in arms after New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman wrote a recent column in the form of an open — and very angry — letter from Clinton to Mubarak.

The fictitious letter questioned Mubarak’s friendship with the United States and blamed Egypt for not appreciating the billions in American aid it gets.

The Egyptian press went ballistic.

The United States, with its 200 years of history, cannot lecture Egypt, with its 5,000 years of history, wrote one Egyptian columnist.

But last week, when spirits cooled, the Egyptians realized that yes, Clinton can indeed lecture, given those billions in aid.

“Egypt is a country with two hearts that beat simultaneously,” said Ya’ari. One heart belongs to Gamal Abdel Nasser, the nationalist president of the 1950s and 1960s, and the other to Anwar Sadat, the pragmatic Western-oriented peacemaker, he said.

“Recently the Americans heard Nasser’s heart beating stronger, but after a little pressure, Sadat’s heart is taking over,” Ya’ari said.

Assuming there is another summit, Israeli officials are already making it clear that Arafat will have to settle for whatever he was offered at Camp David.

“Barak has gone as far as he can go,” Yatom said this week.

Given such comments, at least one Palestinian analyst is already anticipating another deadlock.

“If Premier Ehud Barak does not give up on Israeli sovereignty on the Temple Mount,” said Khalil Shkaki, head of the Palestinian Center for Political Studies, “Arafat will go ahead and declare a Palestinian state unilaterally.”

He said it was Arafat, not Barak, who cannot make any more concessions.

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