After Camp David, What?

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Yasser Arafat

The Spin Cycle: Clinton may tag him the party pooper, but his star has seldom been brighter among Palestinians and in the Arab world. But once he stops basking in the jubilation over his refusal to give up Jerusalem, he'll be left with a king-size political hangover — how to create a Palestinian state without Israeli consent.

The Problem: Arafat has vowed to unilaterally declare a Palestinian state if no agreement is reached by September 13. But the Israelis would retaliate by annexing West Bank land, and being the weaker party, the Palestinians are unlikely to win the ensuing confrontation. And the territory he currently controls is hardly a viable state, even less so without access to Israel's economy. Many of those cheering Arafat's performance at Camp David will also be pushing for, and even provoking, a return to the path of confrontation with Israel, which could make it harder for Arafat to strike the deal he still needs even more than the Israelis do.

The Options: Renewed pressure from both Israel and the U.S. will prompt Arafat to shore up his diplomatic support among pro-Western Arab regimes who backed him on Jerusalem. Expect some sort of Arab mini-summit designed to present a united front of Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States and even, possibly, Syria. But that won't get him his state. The temptation may arise, a few months from now, to stir up the Palestinian street to press his claim to statehood. Ultimately, though, Arafat has to find his way back to the negotiating table.

Ehud Barak

The Spin Cycle: Oy. His government almost collapsed even before the talks, and now even some of his remaining allies are condemning the concessions he offered at Camp David. Of course, this is a familiar problem to Israeli leaders who make peace with Arabs, but Barak returned home empty-handed despite having shown his cards.

The Problem: His battle for political survival will be made more difficult by the fact that almost two thirds of Israelis believe he offered too much at Camp David. With the Palestinians vowing to declare a state, he's going to be forced to act tough, although his more immediate confrontation will be with his domestic political foes.

The Options: Barak is likely to get tough on Arafat, slowing down troop redeployments and prisoner releases in a bid to put the squeeze on the Palestinian leader. But his domestic political crisis leaves him to consider whether to try and rebuild his own coalition, rule as a minority government with the support of Israeli-Arab legislators, or accept a national unity government with the opposition. None of the above bodes well for peace, and Barak will face a mounting clamor for an early election. That may not augur well for his own political future.

Bill Clinton

The Spin Cycle: The talks made historic progress, but Arafat's intransigence prevented a deal.

The Problem: Neither side is politically or psychologically able to make the concessions necessary to create an agreement, and Washington may have underestimated the weight of moderate Arab opinion behind Arafat's demand for sovereignty over East Jerusalem. That leaves little for Clinton to do that hasn't already been tried. In other words, a final peace may now be impossible on his watch.

The Options: Sending Dennis Ross or Madeleine Albright back to the region to finesse the fine print won't help much now. Clinton is more likely to put the squeeze on Arafat — by scheduling no further talks, the U.S. is sending the message that the Palestinians are on their own, and that'll worry Arafat, since Washington's involvement had been his best hope. Having accepted defeat, Clinton may be tempted now to cut his losses and leave the problem to his successor.'s Verdict

You don't make predictions on the Middle East. But a peace deal by the end of this year would certainly surprise everyone. Expect new conflicts and continued talks resulting in interim agreements to keep a lid on those conflicts. Israeli domestic politics is likely to tilt rightward, while the ailing, aging Arafat finds himself facing renewed pressure against compromise. All three parties will inevitably find their way back to the negotiating table at some point in the future, although by that time it's quite possible that all three of the principal characters will have changed.