Lebanon Pullout Raises Stakes for Barak, Arafat

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Israel's race to depart Lebanon could make life difficult for Yasser Arafat, because the spectacle of the Israeli army retreating under fire is emboldening Palestinian militants hostile to the peace process. Then again, Arafat is in no hurry to take the peace Ehud Barak is offering, and is happy to use the upsurge of violence on the West Bank to press for more concessions. "Palestinian leaders know from experience that outbreaks of violence create the pressure that forces Israel to make concessions," says TIME Jerusalem bureau chief Lisa Beyer. "While the Israelis fear that the situation in the West Bank may be spiraling out of Arafat’s control, reports suggest he’s not unhappy with what happened last week and doesn’t fear that he’s losing control."

In Lebanon, meanwhile, an offensive by Hezbollah had by Monday sliced Israel's southern Lebanon occupation zone in half, leaving hundreds of Israeli-allied militiamen stranded as the guerrillas pressed their attack to ensure that the Israelis are seen to be retreating under duress. The Lebanese guerrilla outfit is being championed throughout the Arab world as the first army ever to liberate Arab territory from Israel by force of arms, but nowhere more so than among the Palestinian youths venting their frustration with stones and gasoline bombs. In response to their, and Hezbollah’s efforts, Barak at the weekend recalled his envoys from talks in Sweden designed to break the logjam in the peace process with the Palestinians and postponed a visit to Washington for talks with President Clinton.

Almost a year after Barak’s election got most of the Middle East bullish on peace, Israel-Syria talks have come to nothing, the withdrawal from Lebanon shows little sign of stabilizing Israel’s northern border and prospects have dimmed considerably for an Israeli-Palestinian deal by their September deadline. "Both sides doubt their problems are surmountable this year," says Beyer. "Barak has been talking of a less-than-final agreement, and Arafat is torn between his great desire to be the leader who attains statehood for the Palestinians, and his equally fervent desire not to be the one who sells out the refugees, gives away 20 percent of the West Bank and settles for less than East Jerusalem. In other words, he can’t accept what Barak is offering." Both sides, then, may be tempted now to take the measure of the next U.S. administration assigned to umpire the peace process before committing themselves to any final decisions. And to turn up the heat on each other while they wait.