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Stakes high as summit on Mideast nears

Clinton fears violence if leaders at U.S. talks fail to achieve peace

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WASHINGTON — President Clinton says the Middle East "can move forward toward peace or can slide back into turmoil" depending on the outcome of this week's Israeli-Palestinian summit at Camp David.

"If the parties do not seize this moment to make more progress, there will be more hostility and more bitterness — perhaps even more violence," the president writes in Newsweek magazine. "While there clearly is no guarantee of success, not to try would guarantee failure."

He also sought to explain to Americans the importance of the talks, set to begin Tuesday at the presidential retreat in Maryland's Catoctin mountains.

"America has a profound interest in a Middle East whose people are prosperous at peace and willing to confront common challenges as partners. For the same reasons, the rest of the world — and especially the rest of the region — cannot afford to be bystanders," he wrote in the latest edition, appearing on newsstands Monday.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat must seize the movement to resolve the most complex and sensitive issues that have eluded negotiators, Clinton said.

"Delay is no longer an option: the parties themselves have set a September deadline for resolving the final issues dividing them. Moreover, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict knows no status quo. It can move forward toward peace, or can slide back into turmoil. It will not stand still," Clinton wrote.

The stakes are high on all sides, Clinton wrote, as he began to apply subtle pressure on the two leaders to compromise. Barak needs a peace that can fulfill his citizens' quest for security and recognition and a real reconciliation with the Palestinians, Clinton said. Arafat needs a settlement that fulfills his people's aspirations to determine their own future on their own land.

"Neither side can achieve 100 percent of its goals," Clinton wrote.

At Sunday church services, J. Phillip Wogaman, pastor of Foundry United Methodist Church near the White House, told the president and other parishioners that the talks would be "fraught with enormous possibility and peril."

"You go with our prayers," Wogaman said, prompting several hundred people in the church to give Clinton an ovation in the middle of the sermon.

After returning to the White House, Clinton spent Sunday reviewing background material on the Middle East negotiations. The White House said he planned to meet Sunday evening with his Middle East peace team, including Sandy Berger, his national security adviser, and State Department officials.

The toughest issue appears to be Jerusalem's future, with Arafat seeking to wrest control of East Jerusalem from Israel and make it the capital of a Palestinian state.

Negotiators have made some real progress on the "final status issues," Berger said Sunday on CBS' "Face the Nation." But the leaders need to hold a summit because "they've taken things as far as they can. They've hit a wall, and only now the leaders can make the tough decisions."

On ABC's "This Week," Secretary of State Madeleine Albright declined to say whether the dispute had to be settled for an accord to emerge from the summit. "We have a responsibility to move forward here," she said.

Dennis B. Ross, the senior U.S. mediator, said on CNN's "Late Edition" that "not to try when there is a potential would be irresponsible." He added, "The decisions that have to be made are not going to get easier over time."

Ephraim Sneh, Israel's deputy defense minister, said the summit was the last chance for peace.

"A collapse of this summit may lead to . . . despair in both sides, and despair leads to violence, and violence leads to terrible crisis that would put an end to the dialogue," he told CNN. "The alternative is so horrible that failure of Camp David is inconceivable."

Saeb Erekat, chief Palestinian negotiator, said neither side would benefit from more violence. "We don't plan violence. We don't want violence. We don't need violence," he said.

Some analysts have suggested that if Clinton cannot get a total agreement, the outcome could be a partial accord — in preference to a breakdown. There is talk already within the Palestinian and Israeli camps of a second summit in August.

"I am not going to predict what has to be and not has to be settled at this summit," Albright said.

Meanwhile, Barak's political troubles worsened as his biggest coalition partner, the Shas party, said Sunday it planned to bolt the government, and Foreign Minister David Levy, a moderate, said he was not going to the summit with the prime minister.