WASHINGTON, D.C.: Many stories coming out of Sharm el-Sheikh convey the idea that the hastily convened Middle East summit was a success. The reality, however, is both more complicated and more sobering.
Yes, Israelis and Palestinians agreed to issue public statements calling for an end to the violence. And yes, the two sides also agreed to take steps so that they are less likely to come into open conflict with one another. Yet the reality is less reassuring. President Clinton announced the accord; Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and PLO Chairman Yasir Arafat signed nothing. Moreover, we have seen assurances like this before only to see renewed violence. The same could all too easily happen again.
Even more important, President Clinton had little to say about the future path of Middle East diplomacy other than to note the United States would consult with parties on how to more forward. But moving forward promises to be easier called for than carried out. The Middle East peace process, as it has evolved over three decades, may well be over. Ironically, this development comes only months after the one attempt to actually solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
How has the situation reached such a point? Some point a finger at Ariel Sharon, citing his provocative visit to the Temple Mount area of Jerusalem. A much stronger case can be made that the lion’s share of the responsibility falls upon Yasir Arafat, who at Camp David rejected a generous Israeli offer. He then added insult to injury both by failing to do all that he could to curb the violence, which followed the Sharon visit and by releasing more than one hundred accused terrorists from Palestinian prisons.