Israelis, Palestinians Frustrated
JERUSALEM (AP) _ Some feared the future might bring more violence, others simply sighed and said peace would have to come later. But few Israelis or Palestinians seemed surprised that the painful issues that divide them proved insurmountable once again.
Officials on both sides began the inevitable process of spin after the failure of the Camp David peace summit between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. But ordinary people whose futures were at stake sounded like they’d heard it all before.
``I won a bet, I knew there would be no peace,″ said Tzvi Lewis, a policeman, just minutes after President Clinton’s announcement that the summit had ended with no agreement. ``We were prepared to give Arafat certain portions of the country. But it’s known if you give him a finger he will ask for the whole arm.″
``I’m afraid there’s going to be a big bang,″ said Lewis, 58. ``They might start attacking buses again, attacks on the streets.″
Omer Gavri, a 23-year-old art student, was less fearful for the future, but sad for the present.
``This is very sad,″ he said. ``We’re tired of war and we want peace. I can understand both sides.″ But he added: ``We must not be so pessimistic or so dramatic. Eventually peace will come, if not this year, then next. We have no place else to go.″
Palestinians in the walled Old City, which sits at the very heart of the Mideast conflict with its potent symbols and holy shrines, predicted trouble ahead.
``God knows what will happen, it’s a really bad situation now,″ said Wassim Razzouk, 27, a restaurant manager. ``The worst thing that can happen now is the intefadeh (Palestinian uprising) could come back.″
Souvenir shop owner Rani Yagmoor, 31, agreed. ``I think there’s going to be a war, and this time it’s for real,″ he said. ``Now there are guns, and not just kids with stones. Both sides will lose.″
But both men agreed that no deal was better than a bad one _ meaning a deal that would deprive Palestinians of what they consider their rights: east Jerusalem as sovereign capital of their independent state, the right of millions of refugees to return to homes in Israel, and full return of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
``They can’t keep everything and not give us anything,″ said Yagmoor. ``Give us our land and our capital.″
On the official level, both sides expressed regret but were quick to blame the other for inflexibility.
``The Palestinians did not bend in their positions,″ said Gadi Baltiansky, a spokesman for Barak. ``They maintained their extreme, unreasonable positions on our most basic, national issues,″ he said, including Jerusalem.
Hanan Ashrawi, a frequent Palestinian spokeswoman, accused the Israelis of ``attempting to browbeat the Palestinians.″
Not only was the Israeli position ``extremely hardline,″ she said, but ``there was also an American attempt to bring the Palestinians to comply with an Israeli perspective″ _ a perspective, she said, that violated international law.
Barak confidant Ofer Pines, leader of his Knesset coalition, said the summit’s failure was ``still hard for me to absorb. I don’t know what kind of reality we are returning to as a result of this.″
Not surprisingly, Barak’s right-wing opponents expressed pleasure that he’d come home with no deal. They repeated their oft-stated charge that he’d gone to Camp David without a mandate from the people.
A deal ``would have been a disaster for the country,″ said Shaul Yahalom of the National Religious Party, one of three parties that deserted Barak’s coalition on the eve of the summit, leaving him without a majority in parliament.
``It would have divided Jerusalem, would have let in refugees, would have dismantled dozens of settlements,″ Yahalom said. ``We welcome what happened.″
Natan Sharansky, the former Soviet dissident whose party also deserted Barak in protest, called on the prime minister to form a national unity government with the opposition Likud party.
``Now is the time for a dialogue,″ he said. But leftist legislator Zehava Gal On said talk of such unity was ``a smoke screen, for those who do not want peace. A national unity government is a government of national paralysis.″
Sheik Ahmed Yassin, the spiritual leader of the militant Islamic group Hamas, issued a harsh warning to Israel.
``This failure is another indication that the only choice we have is resistance,″ he said. ``Only by force are we able to retain our rights. We are ready to become martyrs, and we say one short sentence: They will pay a high price if they think to attack us and reoccupy the land.″
But there were glimmers of optimism. In the streets of Jerusalem, waiting for a bus, Sonia Rozen-Weiner, who wouldn’t give her age other than to say she was a great-grandmother, called the current situation ``very bad.″ But she added:
``Always we have to think that tomorrow is another day. We’re a young country and we will go on hoping for peace.″