Arafat and Barak have given themselves until February 15 to conclude a framework agreement on the "Final Status" issues, but during overnight talks in Oslo Tuesday they didn't even discuss their substantive difference, only procedural matters. The absence of any sign of progress in bridging the immediate differences over Israeli settlers and Jerusalem has President Clinton worried, because the danger suddenly seems very real that the Israeli-Palestinian peace process the centerpiece of his foreign policy legacy could grind to a halt. Failure to agree on peace, of course, wouldn't necessarily result in a return to war. Arafat has already taken the PLO so far down the diplomatic road that the only weapon they have left is pleading for U.S. intercession. Unfortunately for the Palestinians, Barak knows that.
Yitzhak Rabin risked and lost his life for the Oslo Accord, and President Clinton hopes his memory will inspire Yasser Arafat and Ehud Barak to take the giant steps required to complete the peace process. But it may take more than even Rabin's inspirational example, commemorated by Arafat, Barak and Clinton in a ceremony in the Norwegian capital Tuesday, to spur progress in the troubled march to peace. After all, even at the height of the optimism and trust forged between Rabin and Arafat, the "final status" issues currently on the table were considered too contentious to tackle. But instead of building the trust and confidence of both sides in the peace process, the last five years of incremental agreements and breakdowns has, in fact, increased mutual suspicion and hostility. That's left issues such as Palestinian statehood, the status of Jerusalem, the future of Israeli settlers on the West Bank and the rights of Palestinian refugees abroad to be finalized in a less-than-conducive atmosphere.