The problems plaguing the talks are so fundamental to the peace process that even another round of sequestered summitry with President Clinton may struggle to overcome them. The premise of the Oslo Accord had been that the topics on the table this week were too fraught to be tackled early on, and should be postponed to allow interim agreements to foster greater trust between Israelis and Palestinians. If anything, the reverse has been true, with the result that Arafat and Barak have to make an even greater leap of faith than the late Yitzhak Rabin made with the Palestinian leader at a time when their uniformed men are as prone to fire on each other as they were a decade ago, and their supporters are more vehemently opposed than ever to compromising on the key issues. "Israel’s Lebanon withdrawal has led the Palestinians to restate their demand that Israel return all of the West Bank and East Jerusalem," says TIME Jerusalem bureau chief Lisa Beyer. "They’re saying for peace with Egypt and Lebanon, Israel withdrew from all Egyptian and Lebanese territory, and now it must do the same with Palestinian territory. But Arafat may be painting himself into a corner by raising Palestinian expectations that he’ll be unable to meet."
With Arafat threatening to unilaterally declare a Palestinian state by the end of the year, and Barak warning that Israel would retaliate with unilateral annexation of some West Bank lands, the Clinton administration may have to settle for medium-term damage control. The only relative certainty in the process is that the final outcome will be one that both sides accept grudgingly rather than gleefully. Perhaps that should be expected; after all, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process is less of a marriage than a divorce.