Although both sides pledged to honor commitments to last yearís U.S.-brokered Wye River accords, Barak wants to combine Wye implementation with final-status talks on such issues as Jerusalem, water distribution and Palestinian statehood. Arafat, fearing that those hot buttons would drag down Wye, wants to keep first things first. Then thereís Bibiís favorite burr, the Jewish settlements in the West Bank and other Palestinian-dominated areas. Arafat demanded an immediate halt to the bulldozers; Barak made no promises. But all that can wait. Indeed, the tough-dove meeting wasnít as much a negotiation as a spit-and-polish for the watchful eye of Washington. After completing his Mideast tour with a visit with Jordan's King Abdullah on Tuesday, Barak will head to the U.S. on Thursday to meet Bill Clinton, who wants a lasting peace to cap off his term only slightly more than Hillary wants the Jewish vote in New York. Barak can expect a warm welcome and plenty of encouraging words. Then heíll have to go back home, and the honeymoon should be over for good.
The honeymoon isnít quite over yet. In his first meeting with PLO leader Yasser Arafat since his election as the anti-Netanyahu of Israeli prime ministers, Ehud Barak kept his kid gloves on and his olive branch extended. The Palestinians were politic enough to do the same, if a little circumspectly. "It is a beginning, and nothing else," said Palestinian negotiator Nabil Sha'ath after the 65-minute summit at Erez, a checkpoint along the Israel-Gaza border, had concluded. While both leaders made all the right noises Ė- "Both sides have suffered enough," said Barak; "It's time for the new dawn," said Arafat Ė- neither wanted to leave without making his position clear. And those positions are as far apart as ever.