'A Unity Government Would Nix Camp David'

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Friday, 10:40 a.m., EST

Do Ehud Barak's efforts to draw right-wing opposition leader Ariel Sharon into his government signal the Palestinians that Israel is withdrawing whatever it offered at Camp David?

"Yes, if he does in fact draw in the Likud party leader, it would have to mean that, because one of Sharon's conditions for entering the government is that all the provisional agreements reached at Camp David would have to be declared null and void. So Sharon won't go into the government unless Barak signals the Palestinians that the deal is off. But Barak believes he needs a unity government, because there are such deep divisions in Israel right now, particularly in light of the violent clashes in Israeli-Arab neighborhoods."

Where would that leave the peace process?

"Well, the latest reports are that Arafat may be prepared to go to a summit in Egypt. If he is, it would suggest that Thursday's violence — the lynching of Israeli soldiers in Ramallah, and Israel's rocket attacks in retaliation — may have shocked him into action. Arafat may have wanted this violence originally, but he didn't want Israelis lynched in front of TV cameras. And the Israelis have blamed him for creating the atmosphere for this. The important thing about a summit would be that, even if the leaders aren't hugging and kissing, it would send a message to the people who want to push the street violence that they may have to answer to Arafat. Today he said he would arrest and bring to trial the Palestinians responsible for yesterday's lynching. It's the first time he hasn't said ‘Don't look at me, the Israelis care causing this violence.' It's the first time he's set a limit. And that, combined with his attendance at a summit, would send an important message.

"But even that won't change the fact that both sides have had a massive dose of hatred, fear and depression over the last three weeks. That's going to make repairing relations extremely difficult."

Doesn't that hatred actually bedevil chances of restarting the peace process?

"You have to understand that the hatred is in proportion to the mutual dependence between Israelis and Palestinians. The reason that this problem seems so insoluble is that it's not like either side can win by violence. Despite the fact that both sides are shocked by the other's behavior, neither side can make the other side disappear. That's why people on both sides retain the sense that they need some form of peace process, albeit with much greater pessimism — certainly among Israelis, anyway. Palestinians are more likely to have lost hope in the peace process some time ago. Now Israelis may be getting to the same point. In the end, though, it may mean both sides move toward more realistic expectations of the peace process."