Tough Mideast Audiences
Israeli, Palestinian deal out of summit would face a hard sell to hard-liners at home.
Beginning Oct. 15, Benjamin Netanyahu and Yasser Arafat and will face each other behind the secluded gates of Wye Plantation for four intense days - more time than the Israeli and Palestinian foes have ever spent together - and may emerge with the most significant progress toward peace in almost two years of stalemate.Skip to next paragraph
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But the pressure they will face at the marathon summit in Maryland is likely to be mild compared with what they will face back home if they succeed in hammering out an agreement. In order to reach an accord on an Israeli troop withdrawal from the West Bank and implement it - not necessarily the same thing - Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Palestinian President Arafat will face potentially nasty showdowns with their own hard-liners.
In effect, there is no way for them to win at Wye and not make waves at home. Arafat will have to disable Islamic militants in order to meet Israeli demands for security. And Netanyahu will have to wrangle with Jewish settlers who threaten to topple his government if he turns over West Bank land that they want as their own.
The deal-in-the-works is beginning to seem more like a prenuptial agreement than a peace accord.
The two parties, who don't quite trust each other enough to tie the knot, have a long list of preconditions that the other side must fulfill before any concessions are made.
Netanyahu's aides say that they have outlined 50 steps that the Palestinians must take while Israel carries out the troop withdrawal from 13 percent of the West Bank, to take place in three stages over three months. These include arresting Hamas activists, collecting illegal arms, and extraditing wanted Palestinian extremists to Israel. Palestinians say they want the whole withdrawal in one shot, plus a freeze in settlement growth and a prisoner release, among other things.
Netanyahu's strategy for damage control with the right wing hinges partially on his appointment, officially approved Oct. 13, of former Gen. Ariel Sharon as foreign minister. Though Mr. Sharon's name has never been associated with peacemaking, he is well-respected by the ultranationalists Netanyahu is seeking to placate as he hands over more territory to Palestinian control.
Sharon has a terrible reputation with Palestinians and others throughout the Arab world - not to mention many Israelis - for leading Israel's invasion of Lebanon in 1982 and leading a drive to build new settlements in the occupied territories a decade later.
Sharon showed a pragmatic side when Israeli and Egyptian leaders worked out the Camp David Accords 20 years ago, after which he organized the evacuation of the Jewish settlement on the Sinai Peninsula. But after an Israeli commission of inquiry found him indirectly responsible for the slaughter of hundreds of Palestinian refugees by Christian Phlangist militiamen during the Lebanese civil war, most thought Sharon's diplomatic days were over.
Sharon liked by hawks
Sharon's popularity proved resilient, however, with secular hawks in Netanyahu's right-wing Likud party, as well as with religious settlers who see him as their best bet for keeping a hold of as much of "greater Israel" as possible.
Netanyahu has been holding the foreign ministry post, which has been vacant since January, just in time to fill it before the Wye summit.
The fact that Netanyahu appointed Sharon, despite the palpable rivalry that has developed between the two, has been widely read as a signal that Netanyahu is now prepared to make a deal. Sharon, he hopes, will be his flak jacket from the attack that already has started from the settlers, who planned a mass demonstration outside his office Oct. 13.