Mideast Peace: Will 100 Days Be Enough?

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Martyrdom made Yitzhak Rabin an eternal symbol of the courageous spirit of peace among warriors, elevating him way above the tortuous, potholed road to an Israeli-Palestinian deal. It will be left to Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat to finish the journey at breakneck speed over the next hundred days. Having rededicated themselves to Rabin's legacy at a summit in Oslo that concluded Tuesday, Israeli and Palestinian leaders begin "final status" talks next Monday, with the February 15 deadline for a framework agreement only 14 weeks away. And despite the emotional bonding occasioned by memorializing Rabin in Oslo, the two sides remain poles apart on the four substantive issues that remain to be settled: a Palestinian state, the status of Jerusalem, the future of Israeli settlements on the West Bank and the rights of the 3 million Palestinian refugees living abroad.

The issues left for negotiation in final status talks were those where the differences between the two sides were considered too intractable for resolution at the time of the 1994 Oslo Accord. They were postponed in the hope that implementing the interim agreements reached at Oslo would build the requisite trust and mutual confidence to make the final hurdle. If anything, the opposite has occurred. Arafat may be more likely to go the extra mile than Barak, having risked his entire political career on a peace process he promised Palestinian skeptics would lead to a sovereign state of Palestine. Barak, on the other hand, has hinted that if no final agreement is reached, Israel would be willing to simply continue making interim agreements. And that's hardly surprising, since for Israel, the process itself has kept the peace even while some fundamentals remain unresolved. But Arafat's health may create more of an urgency. The ailing Palestinian Authority president is unlikely to be around too much longer, and although he has no obvious successor, the only certainty is that the next Palestinian leader will not be as malleable.