Clinton Leaves His Checkbook Behind

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Yasser Arafat and Ehud Barak's American benefactor is suddenly a little short of change, but that could be the least of their troubles. President Clinton joined the Palestinian and Israeli leaders in Oslo, Norway, on Monday for a Yitzhak Rabin memorial summit intended as a booster to next week's "final status" Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. And while Mr. Clinton will press them to take bold political risks to rescue the bedeviled peace process, Barak and Arafat will be asking about the $1.5 billion aid package promised by the President to grease the wheels of peace — on which Congress has put the kibosh.

Shaking down a U.S. legislature that President Clinton himself has described as increasingly isolationist may, however, be the least of the challenges facing Barak and Arafat. Israeli and Palestinian negotiators remain poles apart on the final status peace issues — the vexing questions such as the future of Jerusalem and of Israeli settlements on the West Bank, which were postponed for four years even at the pinnacle of peacemaking optimism back in 1994. But instead of building the confidence and mutual trust necessary to tackle the more incendiary issues, the five years since the signing of the original Oslo peace accords have seen a growing level of mutual hostility and suspicion. The parties have given themselves until next February to come up with a deal, and honoring the slain Rabin may be the best way to remind themselves of the consequences of failure.