Is There Still Hope For Mideast Peace?

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"Enough of blood and tears. Enough…," said the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin at the White House more than seven years ago.

"Apparently not," is the only conclusion one can draw, sadly, after watching a Palestinian boy die in his father's arms in Gaza and seeing the body of an Israeli soldier tossed out of a building in Ramallah, only to be mutilated by the waiting mob below.

They were just two of the more visible casualties seen around the world stemming from the violence between Palestinians and Israelis in the past two weeks. There have been many, many others.
Since that day in September, 1993 when Rabin shook the hand of PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat, President Clinton and his Middle East negotiating team, led by Ambassador Dennis Ross, have been trying to move the Israelis and Palestinians toward a comprehensive peace agreement, settling once and for all the disputes between two peoples who are trying to live on the same small piece of land.

A former State Department official close to the Palestinian leadership says there is a more underlying problem affecting the current violence: "The Palestinians are fed up," he says, and "the violence is going to continue as long as Israel controls the lives of Palestinians."

Certainly progress has been made. But now, less than three months after the parties spent 15 days negotiating details for a final settlement at Camp David, it looks to some as if much of the progress and personal goodwill towards peace is coming unraveled.

"We're in a period of violence punctuated by diplomacy," says Robert Satloff, of The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, whereas "we used to be in a period of diplomacy punctuated by violence."

After watching the events of the past two weeks and not hearing Mr. Arafat's voice speak out publicly with a call for calm, David Makovsky, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute who used to cover diplomatic and political events for several Israeli newspapers, says many Israelis now wonder about Arafat as a partner for peace.

"The question today," says Makovsky, "is, 'Is he incapable (of asking for calm), or is he impotent?'"

In any event, Makovsky says whatever was included in Barak's offer made at Camp David is no longer what Arafat can count on, if a deal ever is struck.

If Arafat thinks the violence will enhance his bargaining positions, as it seems to have helped his international standing with more sympathy for the Palestinians, Makovsky says "he's wrong. Now he won't get Camp David plus, he'll get Camp David minus, minus, minus."

Pessimism permeates the thinking in all three camps. Even those who still retain hope that the pieces can be picked up and stitched back together seem less sure than ever before.
"The reality is," says a senior state department official, "they are going to be neighbors. They can live in perpetual struggle and pain&133;or they can find a way to coexist."