Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - President Clinton broke the news blackout on the Camp David summit over the weekend, giving a progress report but saying he didn't know if talks would succeed in ending the conflict.
Clinton is pushing for an agreement to end more than a century of conflict between Jews and Palestinian Arabs, on the provocative issues of Jerusalem, Palestinian refugees, final borders and Jewish settlements in disputed areas.
"There's been some progress, but I can't say I know we'll succeed," Clinton was quoted as saying by the New York Daily News. It was the first word on the "progress" of the talks that has seeped out of the near hermetically sealed press blackout surrounding the summit.
Clinton told newspaper the negotiations were the toughest thing he had ever dealt with including in previous Middle East talks, the two years of discussions to arrive at a Northern Ireland pact in April 1998 and the deal signed by factions in the Bosnia conflict in Dayton, Ohio, in 1995.
Despite his optimism, Clinton said that he would be "totally misleading" people if he indicated that an agreement was imminent.
"That's just not true. But we're slogging," Clinton said. "It's the hardest thing I've ever seen....This is really important. We might make it. I don't know. God, it's hard," he added.
Clinton leaves for a Group of Eight summit in Japan on Wednesday, and the talks are expected to break up then, at least when it comes to the heads of state.
Meanwhile Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat seemed to switch positions. After reports over the weekend that PA representatives were ready to pack their bags and leave, the PA said Sunday it believed an agreement could be reached within a few days.
At the same time, reports emerging from ministers who have spoken by phone with Barak indicate that there is pessimism among the Israeli delegation that an understanding can be achieved.
Israeli Foreign Minister David Levy on Sunday that the gaps between the two sides were still very wide.
"The situation shows that the positions remain far apart and that all the statements that were made before to the effect that they were getting closer ... were baseless," Levy said at a news conference with the visiting Czech foreign minister.
"The situation there is far from being easy, or pointing to a narrowing of the gaps," Levy said. "If the Palestinians do not realize the need to compromise on their side as well, then the agreement will be far off and they will be far from an agreement," he said. "There is a price we will not pay and that we will not be willing to pay."
Opposition At Home
Both Israelis and Palestinians took to the street in demonstrations on Sunday to express their views to their leaders holed up in Camp David.
More than 150,000 Israelis protested against Barak's participation in the summit and the concessions they believe he intends to make at a massive rally in Tel Aviv on Sunday.
Opposition Likud party leader Ariel Sharon told the demonstrators at one of the nation's largest ever rallies that Barak's peace is "a mistaken and bad peace, a peace of the moment."
Some 2,000 Palestinians from Arafat's Fatah faction joined by the rejectionist Hamas organization also protested in PA-controlled Nablus and Jenin calling on Arafat not to make any concessions.
They demanded that Jerusalem be the capital of a Palestinian state, Palestinian refugees and millions of their descendants be allowed to return to Israel, and that Israeli settlements be dismantled.
$15 Billion Price Tag
The Israeli-Palestinian peace treaty could cost $15 billion dollars to fund, according to a report in Sunday's Washington Post.
U.S. and Israeli leaders have approached Congress to feel out its willingness to fund an aid package to transfer Israel's military bases and borders, beef up Israel's defenses and relocate Palestinian refugees, the Post said.
Calling the figures "mind-boggling" Kentucky Republican Senator Mitch McConnell said Congress would review any requests coming out of the summit but was doubtful that they could be fulfilled this year.
"What I hope is not happening is that the administration is just up there trying to buy an agreement because it's an election year," McConnell was quoted as saying.
The administration has said that it is expecting wealthy allies such as Saudi Arabia, Japan and the European Union to help fund a Middle East agreement. Clinton will likely raise the issue at the G-8 summit in Japan.