Middle East Crisis Headlines - 12/14/2000
Prime Minister Ehud Barakâ€™s office has confirmed that the Israeli leader held another telephone conversation with US President Bill Clinton earlier this week regarding the peace process. Press reports say Barak urged Clinton to make one last attempt to forge an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord before he leaves office on January 20. Barak is expected to press this issue even harder now that Clintonâ€™s deputy is finally out of the race to succeed him as president. Clinton apparently promised to send Secretary of State Madeleine Albright back to the region soon to explore peace possibilities, and said he himself may come over the Christmas holidays. Israeli political analysts say Barak is hoping to go before Israeli voters in February or March with a peace deal if one can be wrapped up before then. Opposition leaders say they are fearful that Barak will offer even more concessions to Arafat than he did at Camp David in July--with the full support and prodding of a lameduck leader with nothing to lose--despite the deadly Palestinian resort to violence. They predict that Barak will be crushed in the election if he does so.
US Mideast peace envoy Dennis Ross met Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in Morocco on Tuesday night and early Wednesday to discuss peace prospects. Palestinian press reports said they examined secret proposals formulated in recent days between Israeli and Palestinian leaders. It has been revealed that senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat met with Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami and other officials on Saturday night, where the new proposals were apparently ironed out. However Erekat told reporters yesterday he was not optimistic that any peace deal can be brokered before Clinton leaves office. French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine will arrive in Jerusalem today to give European Union input into the moribund peace process.
PM Barak congradulated George W. Bush on his election victory today, saying he expected that close ties would continue between Israel and the United States. Other officials and commentators are busy studying the implications of Bush's triumph. Foreign Minister Ben-Ami predicted that Bush would be "very reluctant to tackle the complex Palestinian-Israeli dispute" in his first months in office. In general, ruling Labor party politicians seem to be disappointed with Al Goreâ€™s razor-thin loss, while more conservative Likud leaders openly welcome Bushâ€™s narrow win. Likud legislators generally have closer ties to their Republican than Democratic counterparts, while the opposite is the case with the left-wing Labor party. Likud leaders are hopeful that a victory by their candidate in the upcoming election will be the starting point of a close relationship between the new Bush administration and Israel. They expect the incoming president to give Israel more leeway to negotiate a peace deal with the Palestinians, or to handle the violent uprising if it continues as expected. However, Israel Televisionâ€™s Washington correspondent warned viewers last night that there is still a chanceâ€”if quite remoteâ€”that some Electoral College electors may switch their votes to Gore next week since he won the nationwide popular vote, producing more potential legal battles and constitutional confusion.
An Israeli was lightly injured in a gun attack near Hebron this morning. Armed clashes also took place overnight in several other locations. The fresh violence came after a day of fierce fighting in the Gaza Strip, and after a Hamas activist was killed by IDF soldiers near his home in Hebron. Hamas has vowed to revenge what they are calling "a deliberate assassination of another holy jihad martyr." Israeli forces are on high alert today, the anniversary of the radical movement's founding in 1987. They also expect more trouble tomorrow after Palestinian uprising leaders called for another "day of rage." Armed Forces Chief Shaul Mofaz said yesterday that he is readying his troops for "an extended low intensity conflict" to last at least another year. He warned that violence may escalate if Yasser Arafat declares a Palestinian state as widely expected on January 1, the PLO Fatah movement's founding anniversary. However, he said there are growing indications that the Palestinians are running low on ammunition supplies as the armed uprising continues. He added that security cooperation with Arafat's official armed forces has "broken down completley" in recent weeks, with Arafat's zones of control becoming "sanctuaries for terrorists to escape to."
A large Christian conference scheduled for Jerusalem in late December may be cancelled later today if striking Interior Ministry workers do not issue visas to hundreds of foreigners, mainly from third world countries, who are planning to attend. Some 800 other scheduled participants do not need visas since they are coming from developed nations for the "Celebrate Messiah 2000" conference. Although the government strike is the official reason for the holdup, some locally-based organizers note that other groups have received visas in recent days despite the strike. They say that the conference's theme of worldwide evangelism (the gathering is sponsored by the Lausanne Committee) may be the real reason for the lack of action. The Jerusalem Post and several other newspapers carry reports of the potential cancellation in today's editions, quoting tourism sources as stating that it is insane to turn away so many potential visitors at a time of crisis in the country and the tourism industry.