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Mike Hanna: Dim prospects for Mideast peace deal
CNN Jerusalem Bureau Chief Mike Hanna is reporting on the prospects of Palestinians and Israelis forging a Mideast peace agreement.
Q: Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak has ratcheted up his criticism of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in wake of recent Mideast violence. Has Arafat responded to Barak's comments?
HANNA: There's been no direct response from Mr. Arafat concerning Ehud Barak's comments in recent days. Mr. Barak has stated that he believes the Palestinian leader has been `dragging his feet' with the entire peace process, not just in wake of the Clinton proposals, which were advanced last week.
Mr. Barak says too that he doesn't see any real likelihood of a deal being reached before U.S. President Bill Clinton leaves office on January 20. And, indeed, he says he doesn't see any likelihood of a deal being reached before the elections are held in Israel on February 6 for a new prime minister.
So, generally from an Israeli point of view, the outlook is rather gloomy on any sense that there might be a positive outcome to the latest round of diplomacy.
Q: What are the hopes of Arafat's mission in Washington?
HANNA: The Palestinians have taken the unusual step of releasing a position paper in response to the Clinton proposals. In this position paper, there are more than 20 questions about specific issues pertaining to the proposals. On some of the questions, the sides appear to be completely far apart. There are Palestinian questions or requests for clarification on issues that strike at the very heart of the Clinton proposals.
So, it is very difficult to see how there can be any common ground found between what President Clinton has suggested and what the Palestinians are prepared to accept from their point of view.
The outline the Palestinians have given in terms of what they have said is a request for clarification does in effect amount to a rejection of the Clinton proposals, even though this (a rejection) hasn't been announced formally by the Palestinians as of yet.
But still, with the meeting between Arafat and Clinton, perhaps some common ground can be found. However, given the now public position of the Palestinians, that is exceedingly unlikely.
Q: Is it fair to say at this point there's a general lack of enthusiasm from both sides over Clinton's proposals?
HANNA: Both sides have said they are still intent on clinching a peace deal. Both sides have reiterated that this is their prime intention. However, the proposals that have been advanced by President Clinton do not appear, according to the Palestinian position, to effectively bridge the gap between what the Israelis are prepared to accept and what the Palestinians are prepared to accept.
This being said, the Israelis have made quite clear that they are prepared to accept these proposals as a basis for further negotiation on condition that the Palestinian Authority does likewise. This has in effect put the ball in Mr. Arafat's court. The Israelis have made clear it is up to him now to accept these proposals as a basis for further discussion.
The United States has said the proposals have to be accepted in tact, that there can be no tinkering with the proposals per se. But there are no signs that the Palestinians are prepared to do this of yet.
Q: Does Barak have the support of the Israeli people for striking a peace deal?
HANNA: One quite important issue is the ongoing public criticism of Ehud Barak as he moves toward next month's election. The most recent criticism came from the attorney general of Israel who issued a statement questioning what he calls Mr. Barak's `moral right' to clinch a deal with the Palestinians when he faces an election next month.
The president of Israel, Moshe Katsav, has stated that he doesn't believe that there should be any negotiations while the current round of violence continues.
This is criticism of Mr. Barak from very senior sources within Israeli society and just a sign of how difficult and how much opposition Mr. Barak is facing from Israelis themselves.
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