Tranquil site to inspire peace talks

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The Independent Online
YOU CANNOT get much further from the Middle East, physically or spiritually, than Wye Mills. This small town is set on the Eastern shore of Maryland. It is to here that Yasser Arafat and Benjamin Netanyahu have been brought by Bill Clinton to settle their differences in a peace deal that excites little warmth in Palestine, but is a highly significant step as far as the US is concerned.

This part of Maryland is set on a peninsula that stretches from Philadelphia almost to Norfolk Virginia, with the Atlantic Ocean to the East and Chesapeake Bay to the West. It is an area of gently rolling farm land edged by tiny fishing ports and holiday resorts, a little like Hampshire. The harvests have been gathered and the leaves are turning as autumn sets in, making everything golden.

This tranquillity, of course, is why this place was chosen to host the talks. Wye Plantation, a conference centre that is just across the soaring Bay Bridge from Annapolis, is a favourite hideaway for Washington's political classes when they have serious business to transact. It was used three years ago for abortive talks between Israel and Syria.

Camp David, too, is in Maryland and there can be no doubt that President Bill Clinton is hoping that Wye Plantation will go down in history as a similarly resonant name. Jimmy Carter made history there between Egypt and Israel. Mr Clinton, however, will doubtless be hoping that his name will go forward to the Nobel committee and that he will get the peace prize. Mr Carter's name was submitted, but too late to win the prize.

Mr Clinton can already claim some of the credit for the peace negotiations in Northern Ireland, and for the Dayton Agreement that ended the fighting in Bosnia. Peace between Israel and Palestine would be an excellent addition to his peace-making credentials.

But there is little excitement here about his forthcoming "triumph". For everything in Maryland may be golden, but the atmosphere in the Middle East is very dark, and it will take more than a long weekend in the American countryside to change that.

The two sides are staying in separate buildings while negotiations continue - in full, plenary sessions and in side rooms. Mr Clinton and his Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, are assisting where necessary.

Last night, Mr Clinton was due to arrive and the skies were full of helicopters, just part of the discreet but heavy security presence that now extends around Wye Mills.