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Middle East Peace Summit Ends Without Agreement

Aired July 19, 2000 - 11:00 p.m. ET


JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Judy Woodruff in Washington. News comes just in the last few minutes that the Camp David Middle East summit has broken up without an agreement. Very brief statement issued by the White House saying that the meeting is at an end. President Clinton will be leaving shortly for a long scheduled summit in Japan with other industrial leaders of other industrialized nations.

CNN is told that in a few minutes the president will leave Camp David and head to a helicopter, and then take off for Japan. We have to assume that shortly thereafter both the leader of the Palestinians, Yasser Arafat, and the Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Barak, will be departing as well.

This comes after nine days of what we've been told are intense negotiations at Camp David with the leaders of the Palestinians, the Israelis, and their negotiating partners.

These pictures are pictures that, provided by the White House, that have been taken in the last few days as the negotiations have grown tense and indeed testy in the last few days. We're told President Clinton lost his temper in conversations with the two leaders today and even yesterday as it became clear that the deadline that had been imposed yesterday, extended to today, and even as that second deadline came along that no agreement was in sight.

We're now learning that White House officials are saying that in the last two to three hours President Clinton was shuttling virtually continuously between cabins at Camp David. In one cabin, there would be Yasser Arafat, the leader of the Palestinians, in another the Israeli prime minister, Ehud Barak, going back and forth in almost a desperate last-minute attempt to bring out an agreement.

He was clearly unable to do that. He had set a deadline of close to midnight tonight, and in fact, we are just about an hour away from that. And this has to mean great disappointment on the part of President Clinton and on the part of his foreign policy advisers, who have been working so hard to pull this together.

We had also been told that in the last few days the major sticking point here was the city of Jerusalem: in particular, East Jerusalem, the sacred -- the sacred place, considered sacred both by the Palestinians, by Muslims, by Christians, and very much by the Israelis. It was considered the place that no side wanted to give in on, and as CNN's Jerrold Kessel, who joins me now from outside Camp David -- Jerrold's been there throughout this Camp David summit.

As we've seen, Jerrold, even though they knew going in that Jerusalem was going to be tough, perhaps they could not have imagined that it was going to be so tough that this whole thing would fall apart as it has.

JERROLD KESSEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Judy, the differing opinions on whether they knew that just how much of a nut to crack the Jerusalem issue would be. But I think what -- what strikes one about the shape of these negotiations was that they've been talking peace, the Palestinians and the Israelis, for almost a decade, certainly years since they concluded their inaugural peace deal, the Oslo -- the Oslo process.

And Jerusalem was left on the side for what they call the "final status" discussions. And these final status discussions have been on the table for the last year and more, two years, in fact. And they have been ostensibly relating to the issue of Jerusalem. But really, up until now, it's been above all declaratory statements of the two sides, very much known positions on -- on the two -- on the future of Jerusalem: the Israelis saying it must remain the integral, totally united capital of Israel, under its sovereignty solely; the Palestinians insisting that East Jerusalem, their part of the city, which Israel occupied in 1967, must become their capital.

And they were unable to bridge those declaratory positions with formulae, a practical formula for living together and sharing in one form or another those rival claims for the city -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Jerrold, you -- you told -- in an interview with us earlier tonight on "WORLDVIEW" you were saying at one point that it really has been only in the last few days that these leaders have begun to think about a compromise with regard to Jerusalem in very practical terms. I think that surprised those who don't follow these negotiation on a close and a regular basis, because I think many people assumed they knew this was out there, they knew it was something they were going to have to deal with.

Why wait until just these last few days to try to think of it in these practical terms?

KESSEL: Good question. I think they've obviously thought about it. There have been innumerable proposals about this way of solving the rival claims on Jerusalem, from academics, from researchers, from politicians, from negotiators. But they hadn't really got to grips with those in the negotiations until, I believe, the last few days. Of course, we don't know the details of how the Camp David summit unfolded. But it does seem as if they didn't get to grips with these tangible, practical proposals of how to try at least to bridge those rival declaratory positions on the future of the city until the last few days.

It is a question to say, well, could we not have engaged that for a longer period, would that not have been more beneficial? Or is it simply that the two rival declaratory positions, fundamental positions are impossible to bridge? Now, we're just hearing here from this end that President Clinton from the White House will be making a statement at half past midnight: in other words, 30 minutes past midnight. That's just in about an hour and 20 minutes from now at the White House. And after that, we understand Prime Minister Barak will also be making some kind of a statement, which will be broadcast back to Israel.

Yasser Arafat, who will be leaving from Andrews Air Force Base, we understand, will not be making a statement. That's at least what we're hearing from the Palestinian side -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right, Jerrold Kessel, thank you for that. And we had just been learning that here at CNN in Washington -- and I'll repeat it just to make sure our viewers heard -- at 12:30 a.m. Eastern Time President Clinton is scheduled to make remarks before he takes off for Japan and for the G-8 industrialized nations summit. After that, Jerrold Kessel is reporting, there will be a statement of some sort by the Israeli prime minister, Ehud Barak.

CNN's John King, our senior White House correspondent standing by.

John, you've been on the telephone trying to determine what happened here. What have you learned?

JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Judy, we're told the president, as he heads back here by motorcade from Camp David, profoundly disappointed, obviously, that he was not able to broker agreement. The challenge now for the president, aides believe, is to publicly urge the leaders as they leave not to finger-point, not to posture, and to try to keep the atmosphere, as he believes a positive atmosphere developed during most of the talks, going.

But we're also told the president returns here with no announcement, at least at this hour, of a date for these negotiations to resume. No big headlines, we're told. The president simply wants to come back, make his case to the American people and an audience around the world of why he thought it was important to call this summit, even though the two sides were so far apart. And again, the White House believes the president's urgent mission now is to convince the Israelis and the Palestinians not to come out of the secrecy of Camp David and engage in a public war of words over who was to blame for the failure to reach an agreement.

We're told in the final hours of the discussions, even as the president tried to bridge the divides, in each of his conversations with the Israel leaders and the Palestinian leaders and the negotiators, the president made the case that if we do not get there, please do not leave Camp David and go out and publicly blame each other. Instead, he has urged the leaders to publicly cite the goodwill of the other side and cite the significant differences, but to commit to continuing the peace process.

Obviously, after the president speaks here at the White House, the administration will be watching quite carefully to see what Prime Minister Barak says and to see what any members of the Palestinian delegation say not only this evening but perhaps even more importantly -- when they return back to the region and the very difficult domestic political situations both Mr. Arafat and Mr. Barak will face as they go home without an agreement.

WOODRUFF: Surely, however, John, the administration -- the president -- others around him -- must be discouraged to have spent nine straight days in this pressure-cooker environment, putting everything they could together, putting these leaders face to face, putting their negotiators, their experts around the table, going back and forth, still no agreement. It must -- does it make them believe that it's even harder to do this in the future?

KING: Well, there's two camps in the administration on that. One is that, at least for the first time, the Israelis and the Palestinians specifically discussed proposals about Jerusalem, specifically discussed land swaps; had much more candid discussions about the refugee crises, and about the ultimate borders, if there would -- and everyone expects there would have to be a Palestinian state. So, one camp is that they finally discussed these things.

Maybe if they take a break and go home and realize that this president leaves office in six months; this president has invested 7 1/2 years in this process; perhaps before the key September 13th deadline, they will raise their hands and say: We've had a little time to think about it. Let's get back to the table. The other camp worries that, now that both sides have shown their cards, if you will, in the Camp David negotiations -- gave an indication of what concessions they were ready to make -- now that they go public, out of these secret negotiations -- that each side will finger point; each side will decide to demand more; and that we will have a public escalation of blame for the failure to reach an agreement.

And then both leaders will face, not only issues between the Israelis and the Palestinians, but domestic criticism for putting proposals on the table that might not be popular on some factions with back home. Prime Minister Barak, especially, came here, remember, after just surviving a vote of no confidence in his government. The worry is he will go home, conservative hard-liners will hear about some of the concessions he was prepared to make, and that perhaps, a week or a month from now, Mr. Barak will be even weaker, and unable to negotiate.

And just today, one more example: The president tried to convince other Arab leaders -- the president of Egypt, King Abdullah of Jordan -- to put a little pressure on Yasser Arafat to make concessions -- again, because he worried that if the leaders returned to the volatile regions, they could finger point, there could be posturing, or even worse, perhaps there could be violence that deteriorated, if not evaporated any of the progress they made at Camp David these past nine days.

WOODRUFF: All right, John King at the White House, describing some very different scenarios being played out there at the White House, very different kind of reactions that officials anticipate may come as a result of this failed effort to reach an agreement on peace in the Middle East. Let's go now to Jerusalem to our bureau chief there, Mike Hanna; Jerusalem of course being the major sticking point, we are told -- one of the issues that these leaders grappling with -- having the hardest time trying to make any headway on.

Mike, I know that it is very early. We have only learned of the breakup of this summit in the last few minutes. But based on what you know about the different parties there, what is likely to be -- what are likely to be the reactions?

MIKE HANNA, CNN JERUSALEM BUREAU CHIEF: Well, certainly a very difficult time ahead for Prime Minister Barak in particular. As you mentioned, he's been facing a great deal of domestic criticism in recent weeks, narrowly avoiding a vote of no confidence shortly before his departure for the United States. And the point made by John King there that, if the leaders do speak publicly about some of the proposals that were on the table, that indeed may indeed have been accepted -- we have heard before that there was a great deal of (UNINTELLIGIBLE) -- said one Israeli minister -- between the sides on a number of issues.

Certainly, these (UNINTELLIGIBLE) critics of Mr. Barak will seize on that and will continue with their campaign to get him and his government out of power. So, that will be a very difficult period indeed for Mr. Barak in the days and weeks ahead. The other problem facing the region: the date September 13; this was the deadline, which was a subtext to these talks. September the 13th is a date that Mr. Arafat has said he will unilaterally declare a Palestinian state of independence with or without an agreement.

Israel, in its turn, has said, should this happen, it will unilaterally annex some of these areas, some of the settlements that it has on the Palestinians territory, certainly a scenario that would lead to an escalation in the tension in the region, and possibly, too, an escalation in the conflict in the region.

So without the agreement, with the leaders returning on both sides, there is an incredibly -- a very difficult period ahead. The key, once again, as expressed there by John King, of whether the blame is going to be apportioned, whether full details of what is actually discussed in those Camp David talks is released to the public. All of these issues will play out in the next few hours, in the next couple of days. But definitely a very, very difficult time domestically for Prime Minister Barak in particular, Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right, CNN's Jerusalem bureau chief Mike Hanna. And, Mike, we want you to continue to stand by.

CNN's Jerrold Kessel, who's has been covering these talks out at Camp David is still with us.

Jerrold, again, you've been talking to people out there. What more are you learning at this point?

KESSEL: Judy, I think both Mike Hanna and John King were right to point out the doom-and-gloom scenarios that are likely to emerge, because that was what Ehud Barak himself had said, that if the alternative to success at this summit would be very, very dire consequences for the region, with the possibility indeed of down the road, perhaps on that looming September 13 date of confrontation literally between Israel and the Palestinians.

But we could perhaps inject a note of realism into this, that neither side, neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians, really wants a confrontation, particularly around that date of September 13. The Palestinians would like nothing better than to have the declaration of their state come within the context of a peace agreement with Israel. They've said that time and again, and it could just be that given the fact that these taboos -- I have little doubt that everything will come out from Camp David. There can be little illusion about that, of what was on offer, what was being given in return for what, but because these subjects, which have been so taboo for so long. In other words, a solution, possible solutions for Jerusalem being considered, possible solutions for the issue of the 50-year-old question of the Palestinian refugees being considered. The fact that these are no longer taboo to be discussed might yet lead many people to take a more realistic approach to what can be achieved at the peace table.

And even if they haven't been able to do it in this pressure cooker atmosphere, as Mr. Barak had predicted they would and President Clinton seemed to presume they could in the nine days, perhaps now in this eight weeks -- this is an eight-week period until the 13th of September, some very skillful diplomacy can build on the fact that these taboos have been broken. That may be an optimistic way of looking at things, but I think the region needs an optimistic view, not from me, but I think the leaders will know that they need the approach things not necessarily with everything looking like it is a dire, dire future.

WOODRUFF: I think there's no doubt about that, Jerrold Kessel, given the very pessimistic conclusion, discouraging conclusion to this summit.

Jerrold Kessel joining us from near Camp David. We've also been joined by Mike Hanna, who is our bureau chief there in Jerusalem, as well by our Sr. White House correspondent John King, all of them with information they've been able to gather about late word tonight, just before 11:00 Eastern Time, from the White House, that the Middle East summit at Camp David has broken up without a peace agreement. And varying speculation about whether this will lead to an ever-worsening situation there in the Middle East between the Israelis and the Palestinians or whether it provides a kind of opening, the opportunity for public debate that could lead -- could lead to some sort of a resolution down the road not too far.

As we told you a moment ago, President Clinton will be making a statement at 12:30 Eastern Time before he takes off to Japan and the G-8 to industrialized nations summit. Following President Clinton's statement, which CNN will carry live, there will be a statement, we are told, by the Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak.

You should stay with CNN throughout this night for further developments. We'll bring them to you as soon as we know about them.

For now, I'm Judy Woodruff. We'll back in a moment with our regular programming.



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