Truce, not peace, is summit objective

Herald news services

WASHINGTON — As President Clinton flew to Egypt to participate in the hastily arranged Mideast summit, key participants said Sunday that they had low expectations the talks will lead to a lasting peace accord.

At best, participants said, the summit at this Egyptian seaside resort will produce a cooling-off period in the violence that since Sept. 28 has claimed 100 lives, most of them Palestinians.

President Clinton was to participate in emergency talks Mtoday at the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el Sheik with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and King Abdullah of Jordan.

Barak and Arafat are not expected to shake hands. How much they have to say to each other also is in doubt.

"I believe that an end to violence could be accomplished," Barak said in a televised interview.

At the same time, Barak acknowledged that "the imprint of the last few weeks might leave some scars on the collective psyche" of both Israelis and Palestinians, scars that will not make it easy to resume peace talks.

Barak and top U.S. officials said they believe Arafat has not done enough to halt the recent cycle of bloodshed.

The escalating violence was vividly illustrated by last week’s mob killings of two Israeli reserve soldiers. Israel retaliated by attacking key Arafat strongholds in Gaza City and the West Bank city of Ramallah.

Also Sunday, just hours after the militant Islamic group Hezbollah said in Lebanon that it had seized an Israeli colonel, Israel’s Defense Ministry confirmed that one of its reserve soldiers had been kidnapped outside the country. Israel did not provide details or confirm that the captive was in Hezbollah’s hands.

The capture prompted a warning from Barak that Israel would "know how to respond" to the kidnapping of one its citizens.

On television Sunday, Barak said he believes Arafat "deliberately launched" the violence "to attract the attention of the world."

While not assigning blame so directly, both Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and National Security Adviser Sandy Berger implored Arafat to "do more" to rein in stone-throwing Palestinians.

"He has made, in the past seven years, some important decisions for peace, but we now believe that he has to do more to control the violence," Albright said. "The peace process is the only road."

But the Palestinians’ chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, said that U.S. and Israeli officials are overestimating Arafat’s ability to control events in the streets.

"It’s not two armies that are clashing," Erekat said.

Erekat was pessimistic that the summit will ease the distrust between the Palestinians and Israelis.

"I really don’t want to raise anyone’s expectations," he said.

And Erekat warned that any chance of peace will be irreparably harmed if Barak forms a coalition government with Israel’s right-wing Likud Party leader, Ariel Sharon. Sharon’s Sept. 28 visit to Jerusalem’s holiest site — sacred to both Jews and Muslims — triggered the recent riots against Israeli soldiers.

"If he brings Sharon into his Cabinet, Israelis and Palestinians will be losers for a long time to come," Erekat said. "This (peace) process is slipping outside our fingers like sand. And we need to do something to stop it."

By ordering inordinately violent retaliation, Barak really "is strengthening Palestinian extremists. He is strengthening Israeli extremists," Erekat said, while shunting aside "people like me, who have done nothing in last 25 years of my life except do what I can to let Israelis and Palestinians live together."

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