Al-Ahram Weekly   Al-Ahram Weekly
13 - 19 July 2000
Issue No. 490
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Up in the air

By Dina Ezzat

In the first hours of the Camp David talks, Palestinian President Yasser Arafat found himself confronted with what he was expecting: an Israeli plan, supported by the US, for a medium-range agreement.

"What [Israeli Prime Minister Ehud] Barak had in mind is an agreement that is more than a framework agreement but less than a final agreement," an informed source, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Al-Ahram Weekly.

This means that in Camp David Arafat is unlikely to clinch a final deal on the most contentious issues: Jerusalem and Palestinian refugees' right of return.

One source close to the negotiations commented: "The Palestinians could possibly accept a degree of compromise, but no matter how much they give, it does not seem to be anything [like] what the Israelis could give."

So what would Clinton prefer? Sources say that thus far it seems he could settle for the medium-range agreement that lays down general guidelines on the three issues of the day: the amount of land to be returned to the Palestinians; the number of refugees to be repatriated and the mechanism for compensation; and the areas of East Jerusalem over which the Palestinians will be able to exercise some authority.

As for the details, informed sources say, the American administration could well suggest a series of summits "with no particular deadline" to settle them.

"So far, it seems that what Arafat is being offered [in Camp David] is one summit per issue: this summit for land, a coming summit for the refugees, a third for Jerusalem and a fourth for the signing of the final status deal. This means that this process could exceed the term of the current US administration," one source said.

In other words, it appears that the most Arafat can hope for at Camp David II is an up-in-the-air agreement. Will he turn it down? Not necessarily, suggest sources.

"Arafat is not at all in an enviable situation," said one. "He has to choose between coming out with an inconclusive deal -- after which this American administration will depart and Israel could go to early elections -- or no deal and wait for the political changes in both Israel and the US," commented another source. He added: "He also needs to think of how his people will react to his decisions, particularly at a time when they seem impressed with the success of the armed resistance in Lebanon."

The sort of support and advice that Arafat is getting from regional and international powers -- other than the US -- is essential in this decision-making process. The European Union, which is sending Middle East envoy Miguel Moratinos to Camp David, is not generally in favour of an independent declaration of statehood. Jordan, too, is advising Arafat to show "flexibility." Egypt, on the other hand, has promised political support and recognition of the Palestinian state the minute it is declared. But one thing Egypt has told Arafat it cannot afford to agree to is a decision to confuse the status of Jerusalem. "This is something that means so much to Muslims and Arabs. Egypt cannot ignore the public outrage that will ensue if the status of Jerusalem is not dealt with properly," one Egyptian official told the Weekly.

"Egypt thinks it is in the interest of the Palestinian cause that a deal -- and not a half-baked one -- be reached while Clinton is still in office," commented an Egyptian diplomatic source. For this purpose, Egypt has sent a senior envoy to Israel and Palestine to try and promote the concept of a package deal that is inspired by the ideas that have been floated by the parties concerned throughout the negotiations. The envoy, however, was not as successful as anticipated.

"The Israelis do not seem ready to deliver the prerequisites for a historic deal -- not up to the point where Camp David started. We hope that during the summit, the situation will change and this opportunity to end the Palestinian-Israeli conflict will be seized," the same diplomatic source added.

But is Egypt optimistic? Answered one source: "Egypt feels that the Camp David meeting -- if it succeeds -- will not be a short process, or a matter of a few days after which general guidelines can be agreed upon. It is important for Arafat that his people do not lose faith in the possibility of reaching a solution to their problems through negotiations."

In sum, therefore, it does not seem that Egypt is particularly hopeful about the outcome of these marathon talks. While top Egyptian officials have been saying that they "hope to see good results," Cairo is not playing any direct part in the summit. Moreover, Egypt has refused to host preparatory talks between the Palestinians and Israelis in the lead-up to Camp David.

Commented one Egyptian official: "Egypt is very supportive of the peace process, but we cannot ignore the fact that Barak has never fully honoured the peace commitments he made in accordance with deals reached in Egypt."

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