Summit style: late nights and full fridge

Clinton brings trust and personal chemistry to Camp David talks.

As the Mideast summit begins at Camp David, there's one thing US negotiators will want to make sure of: that the refrigerator is well stocked for late-night snacking.

If the past is prologue, President Clinton will be shuttling back and forth between Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak several times a day, trying to build empathy. But some of the best work gets done late at night, when the atmosphere is more loose-buttoned and talk extends into the Conan O'Brien hours, such as the 1998 session that went on well after an 11:30 meal of fish and veal.

"Clinton does his best work at night," says former national security adviser Tony Lake. "By evening, everybody is relaxed, and people act all the more personally."

In fact, in a summit where the issues going in seem intransigent, the personal chemistry of the three leaders - and

Mr. Clinton's role as camp counselor - may provide the best hope for any breakthrough.

To his advantage, Clinton has been deeply involved with Mideast issues throughout his presidency, including two drawn-out, face-to-face negotiations. On the eve of this summit, he joked he had studied so much that he could draw a map of the West Bank in his sleep.

And despite the complexity of the issues - border disputes, the status of millions of Palestinian refugees, Jerusalem as a capital - the president seems to thrive under these intense circumstances, putting his knowledge, stamina, and personal skills to work.

In 1998, during the Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking marathon on Maryland's Eastern Shore, Clinton twice didn't return to the White House until 3 a.m. The last day stretched into night and then day again, ending just before sunset in a triumphant accord-signing ceremony.

"I mean, he doesn't stop," said then-Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Perhaps Clinton's greatest advantage going into this summit is the trust he has from each participant - a luxury President Jimmy Carter didn't have when brokering the peace deal between Israel and Egypt at Camp David in 1978. While Mr. Carter enjoyed warm relations with Egyptian leader Anwar Sadat, his ties with Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin were cordial at best.

But Clinton's intense involvement in the Mideast, including unprecedented personal visits and phone calls with both Mr. Barak and Mr. Arafat, have put him in a position to capitalize on his close ties to both men.

"Never before in this kind of three-way negotiation has an American leader had such heavy responsibility because of the trust that people have in him," says Wayne Owens, president of the Center for Middle East Peace and Economic Cooperation here.

While Barak and Arafat may trust their host, however, they do not trust each other, and Clinton's powers of persuasion will be tested. "At some point, Clinton is going to have to be a tough talker, but that's not so much his style," says Sam Lewis, US ambassador to Israel under Carter and President Ronald Reagan.

At "Camp David I," as it's now being called, Carter brought Mr. Begin to compromise by threatening to give a speech that laid blame for failure at Israel's feet. And when Mr. Sadat packed his bags, believing Begin would take the blame for impasse, Carter warned him that "it will mean first of all an end to the relationship between the United States and Egypt." Sadat changed his mind, and agreement was reached in two days.

But Clinton can play tough as well. At the 1998 summit, he told the Israelis he had a speech prepared about missed opportunities if the talks collapsed. And while he joked with both delegations, saying, "I've kept you so long, you have a right to ask me for territory," on the last night, he snapped: "We're going to get an agreement tonight or we're not going to get an agreement," and then left the room.

Still, Clinton's lame duck status could work against him.While Carter went to Camp David in the second year of his presidency, and was then able to help implement the treaty, Clinton "will not be around to help the parties wrestle with the hard problems of implementation," says William Quandt, a professor at the University of Virginia who was at Camp David with Carter. "This makes me think that Clinton will go for a symbolic victory," he adds.

If the president keeps his commitment to leave for the annual economic summit of world leaders July 19, he has just eight days in total to pull this off.

Camp David's woodsy seclusion will help to keep the leaders focused. And all three are detail men, anyway. Clinton can name Knesset members and the leaders of the many Israeli parties. Barak takes apart watches and puts them back together again for relaxation. And Arafat's entire life embodies the Palestinian struggle.

But there may be times when everyone just needs a break. At Maryland's Eastern Shore, Clinton took Netanyahu for a walk along the Wye River. At Shepherdstown, Barak and the Syrian foreign minister took a trip to Antietam, the Civil War battlefield.

There's not too much in the way of entertainment at Camp David, however. There's fishing, of course, and walks, and golf - but sadly for the first duffer, neither Arafat nor Barak play. The president may show his guests "the beautiful Maryland countryside," according to P. J. Crowley, National Security Council spokesman.

"If things are really tense, you may want to break the ice," says Mr. Crowley. "Actually, if things are really, really tense, there may be some times you want to keep the pressure on."

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
QR Code to Summit style: late nights and full fridge
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today