A Bumpy Path to Mideast Peace

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The Mideast peace process has been jump-started with a number of key meetings -- and an equal amount of threats. Israeli president Ezer Weizman held surprise talks with top Palestinian negotiators Monday, in which he made veiled criticisms of his prime minister’s practiced intransigence. “One goes in the right direction,” says Weizman, “but not always along the right path. The way we are going now, there will be a few accidents.”

It was a well-timed description of Netanyahu. Bibi spent Tuesday as the guest of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, while managing to make a less-than-diplomatic reply to Palestinian demands for a declaration of statehood. “We cannot accept... the formation of a new Iraq or Iran next to our doorstep,” Netanyahu told reporters. Weizman must have loved that one.

Washington, meanwhile, is doing what it can to cajole Israel into a deal. This week Al Gore attends Israel’s 50th birthday party; next week Madeleine Albright flies to London for separate talks with the two sides. By that time, the clock will be ticking on the last 12 months before the Oslo accord’s peace deadline. And for all the misty-eyed recollections of David Ben-Gurion’s dream offered by President Clinton, no progress has yet been made on a crucial West Bank compromise. Clinton and Arafat want Israel to withdraw from 13 percent of the region; Netanyahu won’t go higher than 9 percent. No wonder Albright says the negotiations are “going round in circles.” That's one trip where accidents are bound to happen.