February 10, 2000
Resisting Palestinian Calls for Intervention
Jewish activists are confident the Clinton administration will just say "no" when it comes to Palestinian demands for more direct U.S. intervention in the mired Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
And administration sources say they're prepared to do just that, although the "no" will be couched in diplomatic niceties.
The talks, which were supposed to produce a "framework" agreement on difficult final status issues by next week, haven't even resolved the fight over a delayed West Bank pullback mandated by last year's Sharm el-Sheikh agreement.
A summit between Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat last week did nothing to break the deadlock, and on Monday the Palestinians announced an indefinite suspension of talks.
Officials here are taking that announcement with a grain of salt.
"These kinds of dramatic ups and downs are to be expected when the two sides start grappling with the really hard issues," one official soothed. "There's a lot of melodrama that accompanies each move forward in the negotiations."
But administration officials also worry that this time, Yasser Arafat's attempt to use Washington to squeeze a little more from Israel may be particularly counterproductive because the two sides are so far apart, with only dim prospects for closing the gap anytime soon.
This week, special Mideast envoy Dennis Ross, speaking to CNN after his return from the region, rejected the idea of the kind of American outline agreement introduced during the Israeli-Syrian talks in West Virginia early in the year.
"We are certainly at a stage where the burden of effort here has to be theirs," Ross said. "There may well come a point where ideas from us can be helpful, [but] we are not at that point. They still have a lot of work to do together, and we can help them."
Ross and other administration officials concede that the Feb. 13 framework deadline is out of reach, but say the September target for a final agreement is still possible.
"We have time to resolve the question of a permanent status, and both sides in my judgment are determined to do so," Ross told CNN.
But there's also talk that the September deadline could be moved back by as much as nine months -- which officials here fear will add to the pressure on the Palestinian Authority to declare statehood on its own, a move that would provoke a strong Israeli reaction.
The Palestinians want Washington to pressure Israel to offer more land near Jerusalem as part of the 6.1 percent pullback mandated by last year's Sharm el-Sheik agreement.
But Israeli officials say earlier agreements make it clear Israel has the right to determine exactly what land is returned -- and Washington isn't challenging that view.