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Barak Tries To Placate Rightists

July 25, 2000

FREDERICK, Md. (AP) _ Ehud Barak strode into the news conference, looking every inch the army general he once was, taking the microphone just as Israel’s prime-time news shows were ready to cut to him live.

His audience: virtually everyone in Israel. His message: that he had held the line on issues most crucial to his nation’s security _ but also that he stands ready to give peace another try.

Of the three leaders at Camp David _ President Clinton, Palestinian Authority head Yasser Arafat, and Barak _ the Israeli prime minister had to carry out perhaps the most delicately nuanced damage control when the 2-week-old summit abruptly fell apart Tuesday.

Barak arrived at Camp David harried and humbled by right-wing political opponents contending he was ready to concede far too much to the Palestinians. His governing coalition fell apart the day before he left, and he only narrowly survived a no-confidence motion practically as he boarded his plane to the United States.

The summit’s failure gives Barak plenty of ammunition to assert that he had not been willing to give the Palestinians too much. At the same time, though, the prime minister _ who took power only a year ago on a peace platform _ had to explain why talks had failed to a country where most people had hoped for a peace accord.

Looking straight into the cameras, Barak spoke in Hebrew for eight minutes without a pause, directly addressing those at home.

``I worked throughout the summit out of an obligation that was moral and personal ... to do all that was possible to bring an end to the conflict,″ he said, in a voice that occasionally cracked, betraying the unrelenting tension of the past 14 days.

As he often does in a crisis, Barak invoked his past as army chief of staff and Israel’s most decorated soldier.

``My entire life I have fought for the security of Israel, and during these days I say again, we will not agree to concede on Israel’s essential interests,″ he said, chopping his hand for emphasis.

That said, he insisted he is not ready to abandon peace.

``The summit was an essential stepping stone and part of intensive, far-reaching negotiations to reach a framework for a final peace deal with the Palestinians,″ Barak said. As for peace prospects now, ``I see it as my most important responsibility.″

Even as he signaled firmness in protecting Israel’s interests, Barak appeared to be preparing his public for the possibility of future concessions on Jerusalem, the most explosive issue addressed at Camp David.

Since winning the eastern part of Jerusalem from Jordan in 1967, Israel always has insisted it will never share sovereignty over the city. It was clear, however, that summit discussions envisioned some form of Palestinian control in the city’s Arab neighborhoods.

Barak spoke, without elaborating, of having been ready to ``touch the most sensitive nerve.″

Then came another delicate task: rebuking Arafat for intransigence at the summit, while reaching out to him anew as a peace partner.

Barak squarely blamed the Palestinian leader for the talks’ collapse, saying Arafat ``was wary of making the historic decisions needed ... to end the conflict.″

``It’s painful to realize the other side is not ripe for peace,″ he said pointedly.

But Barak quickly turned to talk of another summit after the two sides have time to reflect.

Saying he would leave ``no stone unturned″ in the quest for an agreement, Barak counseled: ``We should not lose hope. The dream of peace is not dead.″

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