The main reason for the rush, according to the Israelis, was that the Palestinians were not providing "satisfactory answers" on two issues: a timetable for an Israeli withdrawal from parts of the West Bank, and the release of Palestinians jailed for anti-Israel attacks –- in other words, Arafat wants too much land, and too many prisoners, too soon. But Barak is also in a hurry because U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright is touring the region beginning Thursday and hopes to preside over a signing ceremony in Egypt –- and Barak wants very much to convince Washington that he can navigate a peace process without U.S. hand-holding. The evening hard line may well be a last-minute attempt to push the agreement a little more in his favor; he certainly knows that Arafat is just as disinclined to rouse Washington's ire as Barak is to invoke it.
It's all part of the negotiating process, of course, but Ehud Barak sounds awfully impatient. Just hours after releasing a congenial statement that "it appears there is a chance that an agreement will be achieved this week between Israelis and Palestinians," the Israeli prime minister gave the Palestinians a sledgehammer hint of what Mideast life might be like if Yasser Arafat puts him in a bad mood. If a deal isn't reached "within hours," Barak said in another statement late Sunday, Mr. Nice Guy would instead consider "implementing what he sees as the original Wye" and disregard all agreements achieved in recent negotiations, "although he does not believe this is in the interest of either side."