Barak to Clinton: We'll Take It From Here

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President Clinton welcomed Ehud Barak to the White House Thursday, an Israeli leader he can work with on peace. And while the atmospherics were warm and fuzzy, Barak will have used their three-hour meeting to tell Clinton, in the gentlest possible way, to butt out. The prime minister wants to end Washington's intimate arbitration role between Israelis and Palestinians that began in the Netanyahu era, preferring to see Washington as the political patron of the peace process. "Barak wants Clinton firmly behind him, but he doesn't want the U.S. policing every detail of every agreement," says TIME Jerusalem bureau chief Lisa Beyer. "American arbitration denies Israel the natural advantage over the Palestinians, which is its superior strength."

Barak’s proposal to delay the Wye River agreement land transfers until after "final status" talks with the Palestinians may sound like an echo of the Netanyahu approach, but where his predecessor used almost any excuse to stonewall, the new prime minister wants to restore the Rabin approach to making peace. "It's important to remember that under Rabin, relations with the Palestinians were anything but wine and roses, but there was a crucial difference," says Beyer. "Where Netanyahu related to Arafat only as an enemy with whom he was forced by the U.S. to negotiate, Rabin had a real relationship with Arafat based on the notion that they shared a fundamental interest in making the peace process work." So while he may not be offering much in the way of concrete proposals to the Palestinians right now, Barak is batting a thousand on atmospherics. And Rabin showed that atmospherics counted for a lot more than even concrete agreements in the Middle East process.