Three-way Summit Announcement Evokes Mixed Reactions in Israel

Israeli politicians Wednesday evening reacted variedly toward U.S. President Bill Clinton's announcement that a three-way summit among the Palestinian, Israeli and U.S. leaders will be held early next week near Washington.

Clinton, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat will attend the summit in Camp David, where Israel and Egypt reached their landmark peace deal in 1979, the first peace accord between the Jewish state and an Arab country.

Barak, who met Britain Prime Minister Tony Blair and French President Jacques Chirac early Wednesday in a lightning visit, said in Paris that he will attend the summit to try to hammer out a final peace deal with the Palestinians ahead of the September deadline.

The deal will resolve interim issues between the two sides, as well as so-called final-status issues, such as the fate of Jerusalem, Palestinian refugees, Jewish settlements, border, security and water.

However, Israeli Foreign Minister David Levy issued remarks with a reserved tone following Clinton's announcement in White House.

He told Israel Radio that the differences between Israel and the Palestinians are still substantial, and the Palestinians adopted rigid negotiation stands in the talks, which will make the summit have little chance to succeed.

Labor and Social Affairs Minister Eli Yishai, leader of the pivotal Shas party in Barak's ruling coalition, called on Barak to convene his cabinet and coalition party leaders immediately to mark off Israel's "red lines", or conditions Israel should never cross in any peace talks.

Yishai added that he will not join the Israeli delegation to Camp David as Barak had expected, because Shas's policy-making Council of Torah Sages would meet to discuss the newly developments in the peace negotiations.

Interior Minister Natan Sharansky announced at a Jerusalem gathering Wednesday evening that his party, Yisrael Ba'aliya, had resigned from Barak's coalition because of "the confirmation of a Clinton-Barak-Arafat summit."

Yitzhak Levy, leader of the National Religious Party, also said that his party will hold a meeting as soon as possible to decide if it will also resign from the coalition as it had threatened last month against the planned summit.

The leave of the two right-wing parties, who hold nine seats in Israel's 120-member Knesset, will made Barak's coalition shrink from a 68 parliamentary majority to a 59 minority.

However, Justice Minister Yossi Beilin, one of the most dovish figures in Barak's cabinet, told CNN that the two parties' bow-out will not affect the negotiations, as the peace camp in Israel will unite behind Barak to push forward the peace process.

He said: "They have been never so close (to reach a peace deal)...... the gaps are wide there, the difference is there ahead of us, but never in the past, the difference between the Palestinians'

views and Israeli views is so small."

"That's what is making me hopeful about the summit. I believed the summit has more than 50 percent prospects to succeed," he added.

Meretz party leader Yossi Sarid, who resigned as Education Minister last month to appease the Shas party in a coalition crisis, said that the summit would be "the last chance for peace with the Palestinians ...... and that chance must be used."

He added that his party will back Barak if he works for peace, regardless of past events. "Meretz trusts Barak to arrive at the best agreement and will support any agreement signed," Sarid said.

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