Camp David summit ends without agreement

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The Camp David summit in pursuit of a Middle East peace settlement collapsed on Tuesday. "The president has concluded that the two sides are not able to reach an agreement at this time," said White House spokesman Joe Lockhart.

The Camp David summit in pursuit of a Middle East peace settlement collapsed on Tuesday. "The president has concluded that the two sides are not able to reach an agreement at this time," said White House spokesman Joe Lockhart.

President Bill Clinton was returning to Washington to make the announcement. It had become clear earlier in the day that no serious headway was in sight despite an offer by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to recognize some sort of Palestinian sovereignty in east Jerusalem.

Palestinian sources said the breaking point came when Israel balked at Palestinian sovereignty over Jerusalem's walled Old City, offering only access to the Al Aqsa mosque, the third-holiest site in Islam. Arafat was infuriated by this, the sources said. At 3 a.m.(0700GMT) Tuesday, Arafat sent a letter to Clinton, saying he saw no point in continuing because the Israeli position on Jerusalem could never lead to an agreement, Palestinian sources said.

Reaction to the breakdown was quick. "This failure is another indication that the only choice we have is resistance," said Hamas leader Sheik Ahmed Yassin. "Only by force are we able to retain our rights. ... We are ready to become martyrs, and we say one short sentence: They will pay a high price if they think to attack us and reoccupy the land."

The breakdown came despite redoubled efforts by Clinton, who returned to Camp David Sunday night after a four-day trip to Japan. For the second night in a row, Clinton held late-night talks, Tuesday's ending at 3:15 a.m., (0715GMT) said spokesman P.J. Crowley. The president was up again 5 1/2 hours later in an effort to jump-start a 15th day of talks. In the course of the contentious summit, there had been repeated reports that one side or the other was ready to pack their bags and walk out. On Wednesday, the White House even formally announced that the talks had ended in failure.

The main point of dispute is Jerusalem, which both sides claim as their capital. Other top issues were the fate of several million Palestinian refugees and the boundaries of a future Palestinian state. On Monday, Lockhart told reporters that as long as Clinton thinks "discussions are substantive and have the potential of leading to an agreement, he will remain here, and keep the parties here." Israeli sources, declining to be identified, told The Associated Press that at this stage, the Palestinians have not been responsive to Israel's proposal for sovereignty over predominantly Arab neighborhoods in east Jerusalem. All along, Arafat has demanded sovereignty over all east Jerusalem, including the walled Old City.

Israel has insisted that Jerusalem can never be divided. The breakdown came shortly before Clinton was due to leave for Arkansas for a memorial service for Diane Blair, a University of Arkansas political science professor and a close friend who died of cancer. Israelis had said earlier the talks were in a decisive phase. "I think within 24 hours we will know if we have gone forward or sideways," Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, Israel's transportation minister, told Israel's Channel Two from inside Camp David.

The Palestinians' frequent spokeswoman, Hanan Ashrawi, predicted the two sides could achieve only an interim accord, "either some kind of vague framework or damage control to prevent a total breakdown."

Barak, who has been under constant pressure from right-wing political opponents at home, got a new reminder Tuesday of the battle that could await him if he makes sweeping concessions to the Palestinians. Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in a rare news conference broadcast live in prime time on both Israeli TV channels, said he wanted to prevent a "ripping apart" of Israeli society "that could happen in the next few days."

"What we hear from most of the reports out of Camp David does not answer our hopes," Netanyahu said, demanding that Barak reject any deal that would call for sharing sovereignty over Jerusalem with the Palestinians.

Comments