By Munir K. Nasser
On the eve of the Middle East peace summit at Camp David, President Clinton said that both Prime Minister Barak and President Arafat "have the vision, the knowledge, the experience and the ability and the sheer guts to do what it takes to reach an agreement and then to take it back to their people and see if they can sell it."
Clinton stressed that Barak has said that the people of Israel will have their say on this. "So this is really a matter of trying to come to grips with the issues on the merits, asking whether the price of peace is greater than the price of continued conflict and all the associated difficulties and heartbreaks and uncertainties and insecurity that that carries. And I'm going to do my best to help them," he told reporters at the White House.
"It's going to be a difficult process," he added, "but the fact that Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat are coming "means that we've still got a chance."
Clinton said he admires "both of them for coming. It's not easy for either to come. But they have come because they think that the price of not doing it is greater than the risk of going forward."
Asked about Israel's political situation, and how Barak can negotiate a peace at the same time that his governing coalition is falling apart, Clinton said "it is important to note that, as the news reports this morning in Israel reflect, a solid majority of the people want him to come and want him to pursue peace."
Clinton noted that "if this were easy, it would have been done a long time ago. This is difficult. It is perhaps the most difficult of all the peace problems in the world, certainly dealing with the most difficult issues of the whole Middle East peace process, on which I have worked for nearly eight years now." He said.
Meanwhile, Special Middle East Coordinator Dennis Ross said the Middle East peace summit at Camp David presents "an historic opportunity" to bring the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians to an end.
Ross said on CNN the Israelis and Palestinians have "demystified" the permanent status issues -- borders, refugees, security and Jerusalem -- so they can be discussed. "Prior to that time, each side was very reluctant to get into those kinds of discussions because of the sensitivity of the issues," he explained. The bad news, he said, "is that there still are significant gaps that separate the two sides."
While acknowledging that dealing with the core issues of permanent status will be difficult, Ross said, President Clinton is hosting this summit "because there's a potential, which shouldn't be lost, and also because he sees the alternative of not trying. Not to try, when there's a potential, would not have been responsible."
Ross would not speculate on whether an agreement can be reached at the summit, but he said the decisions that have to be made are not going to become easier over time ... "and if we don't act now, there is a very definite risk that you'll see a slide towards deterioration."
Ross said: "What we're trying to do is get both sides to focus on what is to be gained, not what is to be lost. So our focus is much more on how you move ahead and reach an agreement, and much less on what are the consequences if you don't reach an agreement."
Ross said he was hoping within one week to be able to wrap up all of the permanent status issues.
"We're certainly looking at that as the window in which we're going to try to produce an agreement with the parties that deals with all of the permanent status issues," he added.
He denied that parties are close to resolving those issues. "I wouldn't say that we feel that we're so close but I would say we see a potential; we recognize something else," he said. "The choices that are there are not going to change. The decisions that have to be made are not going to become easier over time. So what we are trying to do is, working on the basis of what has been distilled over time, see if in fact we can reach such an agreement."
Ross stated that "History and geography have destined the two sides to be neighbors. Now they can either live in peace as neighbors, or they can live in perpetual struggle. There has to be a way to find an outcome that allows them to live in peace together." - Albawaba.com
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