While the collapse of the peace process may have been accelerated by Netanyahu, it was already in trouble even before the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin -Ė and Barak had been considered a hawk in Rabinís cabinet. After taking office as prime minister next week, Barak plans to visit Washington and to meet with Yasser Arafat. The atmospherics of those meetings will seem light-years away from the sullen exchanges with Netanyahu, but donít expect the deep substantive differences to melt like the morning mist.
Ehud Barak should be worried -- not about any domestic threat, but by U.S. and Arab expectations of his peacemaking abilities. So heady is the atmosphere surrounding Barakís succession to the stonewalling Benjamin Netanyahu that President Clinton even suggested Thursday that Palestinian refugees should be allowed to live wherever they choose. A noble enough sentiment, but one that was nimbly retracted by the State Department, who may be more mindful of the fact that most Palestinian refugees originally fled homes in what is now Israel. But the episode reflects a mounting problem for Barak. "U.S.-Israel relations may face a period of tension because of the false expectation that Barakís election will be the key to breaking the deadlocks in the peace process," says TIME West Bank correspondent Jamil Hamad. "The disputes between Israel and the Palestinians over issues ranging from the status of Jerusalem and the future of Israeli settlements in the West Bank to the question of refugees are exceedingly complicated and there are no quick solutions."