Focus: Mr Clinton's Gaza slip

He wanted to take the spotlight off the threat from Congress, but three crises blight the US President's historic Palestinian visit

President Clinton arrives in Gaza tomorrow, bringing the US close to recognising a Palestinian state. He also comes in the middle of a crisis in which rioting on the West Bank has reached a level not seen for two years and which holds the threat of the Israeli government falling by the end of the month.

"The Americans and us agree," Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader, has kept repeating with surprised delight ever since he signed the agreement for a limited Israeli pull-back at the Wye Plantation in Maryland in October.

The Israeli government response is different. In words which enraged the White House, Benjamin Netan- yahu, the Israeli prime minister, showed his lack of enthusiasm for Clinton's visit by telling his cabinet: "If he comes, he comes; if not, not."

Among Palestinians and Israelis alike, President Clinton's imminent arrival in Gaza is producing an ambivalent reaction. One official in Mr Arafat's Palestinian authority said: "I have just been ordering American flags to be handed out to the crowds. There are 1,500 plastic ones, which are cheap, and 1,500 linen ones which are more expensive. On the other hand the linen ones catch fire more easily if we have to burn them later."

In Jerusalem, meanwhile, municipal employees are busy tearing down posters showing President Clinton in a Palestinian headdress, which are accompanied by wall slogans saying: "Clinton go home".

Mr Netanyahu has tried to defuse the significance of the Gaza visit. He insisted that President Clinton arrive at the newly opened Gaza International Airport by helicopter and not on board Airforce One. This distressed White House staff who want to emphasise the historic nature of President Clinton's mission at the moment when Congress is debating his impeachment.

But the misgivings of the Israeli government have, if anything, underlined the symbolic importance of tomorrow's event. President Clinton will be addressing the Palestinian National Council many of whose members were long ago denounced as "terrorists" by successive US administrations.

Mr Arafat knows what he is getting: a closer relationship with the US. But for this he has paid a high price. He has agreed to an Israeli pull- back on the West Bank of only 13 per cent, which will leave the Palestinian enclaves cut off from each other, at a time when Israeli settlements are expanding at a faster rate than at any time since she took the West Bank in 1967.

IT IS this feeling that Mr Arafat's diplomatic victories are not being matched by improvement in their own lives which has muted the enth- usiasm of many Palestinians for the Clinton visit. Unemployment in Gaza is three times what it was in the 1980s. Average wages have dropped by between 40 and 50 per cent, according to Salem Ajlun, the head of social and economic monitoring in the UN special coordinating office for the occupied territories.

"It is like raindrops falling on the roof," says Younes Jaro, a lawyer in Gaza who belongs to the secular left Palestinian Front for the Liberation of Palestine. "Clinton's visit will have no effect. I have two sons at university. One is in London and visits me once a year. The other is a hundred miles away in Bir Zeit university on the West Bank and the Israelis haven't allowed him to come to Gaza in three years." He speaks angrily of the 300 officials of the Palestine Authority who have special VIP passes issued by Israel allowing them to travel between the West Bank and Gaza.

But it was the decision after Wye of Mr Netanyahu to release only 250 prisoners, of whom 150 were common criminals, which has ignited the rioting of the past two weeks. Prisoners carry prestige in Palestinian society. Of the 2,400 in Israeli jails some 900 belong to Fatah, Mr Arafat's own organisation, according to Hisham Abdel-Raziq, the Palestinian Minister for Prisoner Affairs. Mr Netanyahu complained that no agreement was reached at Wye on the number or type of prisoner to be released. This is undoubtedly right. But among prisoners' families the sight of Palestinian car thieves leaving prison while their own relatives, jailed for carrying out Mr Arafat's orders, stayed inside, has created sustained rage.

Over the past few weeks it is the prisoners themselves who have taken the initiative, smuggling out messages that call for demonstrations and hunger strikes. The result has been the most sustained rioting on the West Bank since the opening of a tunnel under the Muslim quarter of Jerusalem in September 1996, when 70 Palestinians and Israelis died. Nor has Mr Arafat much option but to go along with it unless he wants to appear a quisling in the eyes of the 2.5 million Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza.

The problem for President Clinton is that he faces not one but three crises as he lands in Israel. The first is between the US and Israel and is conducted through verbal sniping and is exacerbated by the president's need to appear as an internationally effective president, just as Repub- licans in Congress move towards his impeachment. He also faces a crisis in relations between Israel and the Palestinians, which has deepened since the Wye accords. But there is a third crisis, which he can do very little to influence, because it is within the Israeli government itself.

MR NETANYAHU won the election of 1996 because he was able to ride two very different political horses at the same time. Polls then showed that the majority of Israelis approved of the Oslo accords.

Mr Netanyahu said he would implement them, but with tougher conditions for the Palestinians. This seemed reasonable to many voters, given that some 60 Israelis had just been killed by suicide bombers from Hamas and Islamic Jihad, the Islamic militant organisations. But an essential part of Mr Netanyahu's base is the hard right. He gave them the impression in 1996 - and even confirmed it in writing - that he would give up no territory on the West Bank which they considered land given by God to the Jews.

It was the agreement at Wye which broke up this uneasy coalition. The hard right felt betrayed. Last Monday they came close to bringing his government down by threatening to vote along with the Labour-led opposition, and Mr Netanyahu still faces a motion of no-confidence in the Knesset before the end of the month.

Yet the Israeli prime minister's position may not be as bad as it seems - the hard right want to force him to give up Wye, not to overthrow him - but the casualty in all this, President Clinton, is finding that the Wye agreement over which he presided has worsened relations between Israel and the Palestinians.

It has changed the contours of the battlefield rather than bringing peace. Palestinians on the streets of Gaza will be waving the Stars and Stripes tomorrow, but will also be wondering how well the American flag will burn.

Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace in Summer's Supermarket Secrets
tv All of this year's 15 contestants have now been named
Arts and Entertainment
Inside the gallery at Frederick Bremer School in Walthamstow
tvSimon Usborne goes behind-the-scenes to watch the latest series
Life and Style
A picture taken on January 12, 2011 shows sex shops at the Paris district of Pigalle.
newsThe industry's trade body issued the moratorium on Friday
Winchester College Football (universally known as Winkies) is designed to make athletic skill all but irrelevant
Life...arcane public school games explained
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Arts and Entertainment
Could we see Iain back in the Bake Off tent next week?
tv Contestant teased Newsnight viewers on potential reappearance
Life and Style
Silvia says of her famous creation: 'I never stopped wearing it. Because I like to wear things when they are off the radar'
fashionThe fashion house celebrated fifteen years of the punchy pouch with a weighty tome
i100(and it's got nothing to do with the Great British Bake Off)
Angelina Jolie with her father Jon Voight
peopleAsked whether he was upset not to be invited, he responded by saying he was busy with the Emmy Awards
Bill Kerr has died aged 92
peopleBill Kerr appeared in Hancock’s Half Hour and later worked alongside Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers
news It's not just the world that's a mess at the moment...
footballPremiership preview: All the talking points ahead of this weekend's matches
Keira Knightley poses topless for a special September The Photographer's issue of Interview Magazine, out now
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
Mario Balotelli pictured in his Liverpool shirt for the first time
Life and Style
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    C# Algo-Developer (BDD/TDD, ASP.NET, JavaScript, RX)

    £45000 - £69999 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Algo-Develo...

    Senior Data Scientist (Data Mining, Apache Mahout, Python,R,AI)

    £60000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Senior Data Sc...

    Data Scientist (SQL,Data mining, data modelling, PHD, AI)

    £50000 - £80000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: Data Sci...

    Java Developer - 1 year contract

    £350 - £400 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Cent...

    Day In a Page

    Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

    The phoney war is over

    Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
    From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

    Salomé: A head for seduction

    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
    From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

    British Library celebrates all things Gothic

    Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
    The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

    Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

    The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

    In search of Caribbean soul food

    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
    11 best face powders

    11 best face powders

    Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
    England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
    Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
    Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

    Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

    Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
    Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

    Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

    The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
    America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

    America’s new apartheid

    Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone