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World - Middle East

Rabin legacy casts long shadow over Barak, peace process

clinton and  barak
From left, Barak, Clinton and Arafat, prior to the start of their meeting in the U.S. Embassy residence in Oslo on Tuesday  

November 3, 1999
Web posted at: 8:29 p.m. EST (0129 GMT)

In this story:

Syrian reaction muted

Settlements remain a stumbling block

Barak seeks solution to issue of Jerusalem


JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak is walking a tightrope in the wake of this week's Oslo peace talks that produced some small hope of a lasting peace in the Middle East.

Barak returned from tri-party talks with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and U.S. President Bill Clinton charged with two huge tasks. He must push the peace process ahead -- and maintain the support and goodwill of the Israeli people.

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VideoCorrespondent Jerrold Kessel looks at Jerusalem as an issue in the Mideast peace process
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Correspondent Jerrold Kessel compares the political careers of Barak and Rabin

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Barak has vowed to forge a peace settlement by following the policies of assassinated Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, whom he calls his "mentor" -- but not everyone is convinced Barak has the courage to follow where Rabin led.

"Rabin had a greater sense of the historical dimension," Palestinian Council member Hanan Ashrawi said."He was quite willing to take risks which Barak is not willing to take. Barak seems reluctant, begrudging, hesitant in terms of the peace process."

Rabin was gunned down by an Israeli opponent of the peace process in 1995.

Syrian reaction muted

Arafat and Barak have set a deadline of next February to reach a broad outline for solving many of the toughest disputes in the Middle East and next September for a final agreement.

The Oslo gathering, which ended Tuesday, was hailed by Clinton as a milestone for the Middle East. "We have revitalized the peace process," he said after meeting with Arafat and Barak.

Other Middle Eastern countries have cautiously assessed the summit as useful -- but say long, difficult negotiations lie ahead.

"It is no surprise that the great efforts and enormous time the U.S. has invested ... have failed to yield matching results," an editorial in Syria's English daily Syria Times said Tuesday.

"The Clinton-Barak-Arafat meeting is no exception," said the editorial, laying the blame on Israel's intransigence.

Kedma high school
Barak at Kedma high school in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Katamonim on Wednesday, reiterating his promise to withdraw Israeli troops from southern Lebanon soon  

Talks between Syria and Israel have been stalled since 1996. Syria demands the return of the entire Golan Heights -- which Israel occupied in 1967 -- before any normalization with the Jewish state.

Settlements remain a stumbling block

The road to a permanent pact between Israel and the Palestinians meanwhile remains blocked by many obstacles. Among them are a bitter disagreement over Israeli settlements on the West Bank -- and the status of Jerusalem.

Palestinians want all the settlements removed, while Barak has sanctioned the removal of only some of them.

Where Rabin was seen as dismissing the claims of the settlers, Barak is blamed for being too supportive.

"Barak is going to the other extreme, he is giving the settlers too much influence, too much power," Ashrawi said.

But Israeli political analyst Akiva Eldar said Barak has to keep one eye on the prize offered by the peace process -- and the other on preserving support from the Israeli electorate.

"When he talks to the Palestinians he thinks about a referendum in Israel ... He is focusing on the Israeli that still doesn't trust Arafat, that still remembers the terrorist attacks," Eldar said.

Barak seeks solution to issue of Jerusalem

Jerusalem is a complex knot of political, social and religious problems that Barak and Arafat must reconcile. Against Israel's claim for a Jerusalem united as its capital, Arafat continues to lay claim to the city as the Palestinian capital as well, at least the eastern section, which Israel captured in the 1967 war.

In a city where Palestinians and Israelis live in close proximity, there is no easy solution.

"In Jerusalem you have the symbolic level, you have a municipal level, you have a security level, you have a territorial level and you have a religious one," Israeli Justice Minister Yossie Berlin said.

A possible solution may lie in expanding Jerusalem, rather than re-dividing it, analysts say. It's an idea that Israeli government sources say is being entertained seriously by Barak.

But that may be too big a leap for many Palestinians.

"You can't simply redefine Jerusalem. The Palestinian claim is based on legality, on the international recognition that the situation created by the war in '67 is not valid," Ashrawi said.

Correspondent Jerrold Kessel contributed to this report.

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