In another surprise that has come to symbolize Middle East peace talks, Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat met at midweek and announced another “breakthrough” — the restarting of talks that have been stalled for weeks. The move came after both Barak and Israeli Foreign Minister David Levy had expressed doubts about achieving peace with the Palestinians and Syrians this year.
This was to have been the weekend Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak was to meet with Palestinian President Yasir Arafat to sign the framework of a peace treaty. Instead, it was a week that saw Palestinians break off further peace talks and that found Barak in northern Israeli bomb shelters, commiserating with Israelis ordered there for fear of a Hezbollah rocket attack from Lebanon.
Speculation that an Israel-Syria peace treaty could cost up to $65 billion was brushed aside by Sen. Arlen Specter following a trip to Israel, but the Pennsylvania Republican said a way would be found to come up with the necessary funding from a host of nations.
Even as formal talks began this week to develop a framework for a final Israeli-Palestinian peace accord, there were growing indications that the real breakthroughs would come in direct talks between Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian President Yasir Arafat and their back-channel emissaries.
At the same time, there was a renewed push to resume peace talks between Israel and Syria, with France acting as the catalyst with tacit American approval. The two sides have not spoken since negotiations broke down in 1996.
Enough is enough. That was the message delivered here by Israeli Foreign Minister David Levy in response to a barrage of anti-Israel rhetoric from members of the Arab League in the weeks since last month’s signing of the revised Wye River agreement.
“There is no peace through coercion,” Levy told a meeting of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations during his first trip to the city as foreign minister for the purpose of addressing the United Nations General Assembly.
After an exhausting two weeks of peace talks in the Maryland mountains, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak returned home Wednesday to hurriedly form a new coalition government before Wednesday’s Knesset recess and to begin addressing domestic issues that have been subsumed by peace efforts.
Although in the past Barak has shifted his peace efforts to the Syrians when Palestinian peace efforts waned — as they did Tuesday in the collapse of the Camp David summit — Colette Avital of Barak’s One Israel Party said this would not happen now.
After eight days of tough negotiations on a host of thorny final-status issues, it was not surprising that the deal-breaker issue of Jerusalem set the Israeli-Palestinian summit at Camp David spinning into crisis on Wednesday.
With Israeli officials saying the Palestinians had shown no flexibility on the Jerusalem question, Prime Minister Ehud Barak threatened to leave the presidential retreat on Wednesday.
As Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres spoke here this week of a cease-fire plan that would lead to a resumption of peace talks, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon ordered troops into another Palestinian refugee camp to destroy homes and huts used as cover to shoot at Israelis.
“There are differences of style and nuance,” Dore Gold, a senior aide to Sharon, explained of the Peres-Sharon approaches, “but the substance is the same.”
Even as Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak began preparing the country this week for the possibility that last-gasp peace efforts with the Palestinians would fail and that a regional war was increasingly likely, a glimmer of hope emerged.
Even as Palestinian terrorist groups rebuffed calls for a cease-fire, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon made conciliatory gestures to moderate Palestinian leaders this week ahead of a Jan. 9 election to choose a successor to Palestinian Authority President Yasir Arafat.