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Political perils pile up for Barak

But Palestinians take tough stance as summit nears

SHARE Political perils pile up for Barak

WASHINGTON — As Israel and the Palestinians jockey for position for next week's summit, political problems are piling up for Prime Minister Ehud Barak while the Palestinians are taking a tough line in their demands.

Barak's inclination to make concessions on West Bank land, Jerusalem and Jewish settlers prompted two parties to pull out of his government Wednesday, weakening his already shaky rule and impinging on his room to maneuver at Camp David, Md.

But the Palestinians, sensing the chance for a successful summit under President Clinton's supervision, are warning Israel that giving up only part of the land for a state would not be enough.

Yasser Arafat has his eye on virtually all of the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem. "If the Israelis think that by giving parts of the land to declare the Palestinian state in, then I don't think this would bring peace to the area," chief Palestinian negotiator Ahmed Qureia said Wednesday. "Rather, it would be the flame that would explode the situation."

Facing a deadlock and a mid-September deadline, Clinton said Wednesday he was summoning Barak and Arafat to his Maryland retreat "to start drawing the contours of the long-awaited peace" that has eluded the two sides for a half-century.

In announcing his risky move, Clinton allowed that staging a summit has its perils. But he said if Barak and Arafat "do not seize this moment, if they cannot make progress now, there will be more hostility and more bitterness, perhaps even more violence."

Clinton also registered his support for Palestinians' "aspirations," for determining their own future on their own land — a thinly veiled message to Israel to give ground.

Barak is so inclined, prepared to give up far more land than even his peace-minded mentor, the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, was prepared to do as he secretly began the Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza in 1993.

Seeing what was likely to unfold, two parties in Barak's ruling coalition said they would quit the government — and deprive the prime minister of the consensus he needs to make peace.

Natan Sharansky's immigrants party and the National Religious Party said they could not remain now that Barak appeared ready to make generous territorial concessions.

For them, the price of peace appeared to be too high.

"The prime minister is traveling (to Washington) without trying to make consensus here," Sharansky said. "I prefer to be with the majority."

Leaked negotiating papers have suggested that Barak would be prepared at a summit to give up 92 percent of the West Bank, and Barak has said that 50,000 out of some 195,000 Jewish settlers could be forced to choose between Palestinian rule and abandoning their homes.

These settlers, and their supporters, represent the ancient Jewish view of the West Bank — what they call Judea and Samaria — as part of the Jewish homeland. They are even more determined to hold on to Jerusalem as Israel's eternal capital.

Barak seems ready to give up at least some suburbs of Jerusalem to the Palestinians, while some of his advisers would go further and plant the Palestinian flag over part of the city.

On the other hand, Palestinian negotiator Qureia said the parties remain far apart.

Barak "does not want negotiations, and he is insisting on the summit, thinking that he will be able to make deals there," he said.

"We don't have common ground on any of the issues. There are big gaps on all the issues — Jerusalem, refugees and borders."