Barak Bargains With Arafat, a Man in a Hurry

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The prognosis for a final Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement is the best itís been in four years, but it is far from a done deal. The sticking point: the land-for-peace Wye Accord and Israel's promised withdrawal from a further 13 percent of the West Bank. New Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak wants to renegotiate which land is handed over in order to ensure Israelís security and avoid isolating Israeli settlements in Palestinian territory; PLO chairman Yasser Arafat, meanwhile, wants the accord's land transfers and prisoner releases implemented as originally written. In order to get things moving, Barak and Arafat rolled up their sleeves and began poring over maps Tuesday, in a working meeting on the implementation of the accord.

The Israeli leader has tried to make it clear that his position isnít a fudge or delaying tactic Ė- heís promised to implement Wye in full if thatís what Arafat wants, but has expressed concern over creating security flash points around Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Wye envisages the Palestinians in control of 40 percent of the West Bank ahead of talks over so-called final-status issues such as the creation of a Palestinian state and the status of Jerusalem. Arafat, for his part, is under political pressure from a Palestinian population grown skeptical of the peace process. "Under the original 1993 Oslo accord, Arafat was more or less promised that heíd have a state by last May," says TIME Jerusalem bureau chief Lisa Beyer. "He delayed his threatened unilateral declaration of statehood in order to give then-candidate Barak a chance. But Arafat's new deadline is May 4, 2000, which is only eight months from now." Good thing each man feels he can do business with the other ó and that both like working through the night.