Israel braces for turmoil after summit failure


JERUSALEM, July 25 (JTA) — With the failure of the Camp David summit, Israelis are bracing for a political shift and increased tensions with the Palestinians.

While Israel readies for the aftermath of the failure at Camp David, President Clinton indicated that the Israeli side was more willing to compromise than were the Palestinians.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak acknowledged that the peace process had “suffered a major blow.”

But “we should not lose hope,” he said. “With good will on all sides, we can recuperate.”

Israel Radio quoted sources close to Barak as saying that the prime minister intends to ask Likud leader Ariel Sharon to join a national unity government.

Barak was elected last year on a platform of ending the Israeli-Arab conflict.

He set out for Camp David earlier this month with the promise of making every effort to bring back an agreement that would be presented to the people for its approval.

He indicated at the time that if the talks fail, it would be up to a unity government to confront the post-Camp David reality.

Within a short time of Clinton’s announcement Tuesday that he was calling off the summit, Israeli politicians were already positioning themselves for a possible revamping of Barak’s already shaky government.

Coalition whip Ophir Pines said the time had come to form a government that would also include the Likud Party, adding that he hoped such a coalition would continue the search for peace.

Yisrael Ba’Aliyah leader Natan Sharansky, who pulled out of Barak’s coalition before the start of the Camp David summit, said he would back a unity government.

But legislator Silvan Shalom of Likud said there was no basis for such a government.

“The thing for Prime Minister Barak to do now is to go toward new elections,” Shalom told Israel Radio. “I must say to Barak’s credit that he knew the price of peace, and stopped.”

Just the same, Shalom said that had Barak brought back a peace accord, it “would not have served Israel’s security.”

Hours before Clinton made the announcement of the summit’s end, Israeli and Palestinian officials began trading blame for the failure.

In his comments at a news conference Tuesday, Clinton said Barak had been more willing to make concessions.

While he praised both sides for making “progress on all the core issues,” the president said “it is fair to say” that Barak “moved forward from his initial position more” than Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat.

At the same time, however, Clinton made it clear that he was not blaming anybody.

He said his comment was “not so much as a criticism of Chairman Arafat, because this is really hard and had never been done before, but in praise of Barak.”

The Israeli premier “came in knowing that he was going to have to take bold steps and he did it, and I think you should look at it more as a positive toward him than as a condemnation of the Palestinian side. This is agonizing for them. Both of them,” the president said.

Clinton made a point of praising Barak “because I think he took a big risk, and I think it’s sparked already in Israel a real debate, which is moving Israeli public opinion toward the conditions that will make peace.”

Clinton acknowledged that Jerusalem was the “most difficult problem” blocking Israel and the Palestinians from reaching an agreement at Camp David.

The president also said Barak and Arafat reiterated their pledges to meet a mid-September deadline for a final peace accord.

Knesset member Ahmed Tibi, a former adviser to Arafat, also said the failure to overcome differences on Jerusalem was the main factor that torpedoed the talks.

“But Jerusalem was not the only issue,” he said. “Nothing was finalized on any of the major issues,” including refugees and territory.

Meanwhile, there is concern about how the summit’s failure will play among Palestinians.

For weeks, observers have warned that its failure could lead to an outbreak of violence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The Israel Defense Force’s chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Shaul Mofaz, said Tuesday the army was prepared for anything.

Clinton spoke at his news conference about “both leaders’ commitment to avoid violence or unilateral actions which will make peace more difficult, and to keep the peace process going until it reaches a successful conclusion.”

But there is always the chances that other, less moderate, voices will prevail.

Shortly after the suspension of the summit was announced, Hamas called on Arafat to return to the armed struggle against Israel.

“The solution now is that Mr. Arafat and the negotiators declare the failure and futility of the entire peace process and return to the path of resistance and jihad,” or holy war, senior Hamas official Abdel Aziz Rantissi told reporters.

“I renew my request to give Hamas a five-year chance to work its jihad and resistance. Within five years, Hamas will be able to achieve the gradual liberation of all of Palestine,” he said.

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