By Munir K. Nasser
A former US diplomat predicts that a full fledged-agreement is possible at the Camp David summit, but with “ modest results.”
Robert Pelletreau, who has served as Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs and as US ambassador to Egypt, Tunisia, and Bahrain, said the summit would hopefully achieve a breakthrough in the impasse over the core issues between Israel and the Palestinians.
Pelletreau told Albawaba.com in an interview that Barak’s military background would make him more flexible on the security issues. He said Barak understands that Israel’s security requirements along the Jordan River have changed from what they were before, and he may be ahead of public opinion on that.
For President Arafat, Pelletreau believes that one very important element for him is return of land. He said if Arafat can get some more land back in a framework agreement, it would be a victory for him.
The following are excerpts from the interview:
Q- What is your overall assessment of the summit? Are you optimistic on the outcome?
A- I am optimistic on the outcome, but I think the results would be modest in the overall picture.
What you would hopefully achieve is breakthrough that latest impasse and there will be another step forward. And there will be more meetings in the future. When you take the refugee problem, how can you possibly imagine it will be settled this year? There is no way. But you can make a start on family reunifications, for example. And that would show some goodwill, and something to build on.
Q-What are the prospects for success at the summit?
A-It depends on how you define success. Obviously the leaders of Israel and Palestine both came to the summit. That means they thought that some progress was possible. I believe a full fledged-agreement is possible, but that does not mean a full comprehensive agreement. Some of these issues are going to take a number of years to be completely resolved.
Q- Where do you think each side stands on the core issues, such as Jerusalem?
A- It is obvious that, before this summit, they have reached an impasse on these issues. One of the roles of a mediator is to try helping the parties overcome an impasse, and that’s what Mr. Clinton is trying to do. His role is to make some bridging proposals, and to try to get the parties to begin to come of dug in positions.
Q- Are there signs that they are changing these positions?
A- Not at this point. Neither party is going to move further easily because they couldn’t reach it on their own.
Q- Barak has been sending signals that he was ready to do some concessions on Jerusalem and the refugees.
A- I think this is an indication that they are ready to talk about these issues. But I am not sure they are ready to reach a comprehensive agreement, particularly after the resignation of members of his cabinet. This will make him more cautious.
Q- Barak is talking about the power of people and the mandate he got in the elections. Is that going to help him at the summit?
A- It could; but I have a question whether he really has that kind of a mandate. You remember when he first came into office; Barak said he could negotiate on all three fronts at the same time. I think he still believes that. But I am not sure that the Israeli people are ready to absorb that much all at once. And a lot of things have been happening in recent weeks like the withdrawal from Lebanon, a shift of leadership in Syria, the resignation of the President of Israel, and the ongoing crisis within Barak’s own cabinet.
Q- But what gives him the confidence that he will push forward with the summit, regardless?
A- He got two things. One is that he is correctly confident that the majority of the Israeli people wants peace and don’t want to return to violence. I think he is right on that. The second thing that he has is his own background as a military leader. He has a very good, solid, up-to-date view of what Israel’s real security requirements are. So he doesn’t have to rely on old thinking. Obviously Israel’s security requirements along the Jordan River, for example, have changed from what they were before. Barak understands that and he may be ahead of public opinion on that. So this gives confidence in his own judgment and the right kind of background to come into the negotiations.
Q- Can Arafat afford flexibility on the core issues of Jerusalem and the refugees?
A- I think Arafat and the Palestinians understand that a negotiated establishment of a Palestinian state is a better and surer path than a unilateral declaration. They can see that they are making progress towards this goal. They can see it in the way that more and more prominent Israelis refer to a Palestinian state. So they can see progress in what I call Israeli leadership opinion.
Q- Do you think President Clinton is taking a gamble on the summit?
A- You have to look at his situation. He has only a matter of months remaining in office. Middle East peace agreements are one area where he has been able to make quite a lot of difference. He is ready to be personally involved. It is a substantial investment, but it represents the latest step in what has been a substantial investment by this administration.
Q- The role of the United States will be an active mediator, or more than that?
A- I think it would be more than that. A mediator plays a number of different roles. When there is an impasse, a mediator can advance some bridging proposals that would move things forward. The press is not going to be at Camp David, so they don’t really have to be thinking about that level of communication every time they turn around. In difficult negotiations, that’s sometimes helpful.
Q-What is the difference between a framework agreement and a final agreement?
A- They are very different. A framework agreement can be as general or as specific as the parties agree. A framework agreement on Jerusalem or refugees may make a start on both but I don’t think it would be wrapped up with all the comprehensive details.
Q- Some people are urging Arafat not to accept a framework deal because it will postpone dealing with the core issues for a long time.
A- Arafat is aware there are many views, and some say he has already gone too far. But I think that one very important element for President Arafat is return of land. If in a framework agreement he can get some more land back, I don’t want to say how much, even if only a sliver of land, this is a victory for him. This is very meaningful. When you view it, this is not a comprehensive peace step. But if this step can bring an additional peace of land back to Palestinian Authority control, that’s worth a lot to Arafat. He has chosen this path of incremental agreements, getting it back piece-by-piece, step-by-step – Albawaba.com
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