Clinton Eager For Progress As He Meets With Barak

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:08 PM EDT

Correction: Location of meeting changed after this story was published:

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak Wednesday announced he will hold talks with President Clinton in Lisbon Thursday instead of in Berlin as originally planned. "He will meet President Clinton in Lisbon at 10 a.m. local time and return immediately after the meeting to Israel to participate in the state ceremony marking Jerusalem Unification Day," said the prime minister's office said in a statement. Jerusalem Day marks the capture of Arab East Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war and Israel's subsequent declaration of the entire city as the capital of the Jewish state.

Jerusalem ( - President Clinton and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak are scheduled to meet in Berlin Thursday to discuss progress in Israeli-Palestinian Authority negotiations as well as Israel's rapid withdrawal last week from southern Lebanon.

The summit was to have taken place last week in Washington but was postponed after Barak chose not to travel because of continuing Palestinian rioting against Israeli security forces, as well as the unstable situation in Lebanon.

Clinton is expected to congratulate Barak on Israel's pullout from Lebanon and discuss the situation on Israel's northern border.

U.S. ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk announced Tuesday that the U.S. would make $50 million available to Israel to secure its northern border.

Larry Schwartz, U.S. Embassy spokesman in Tel Aviv, later explained that the amount was not a new allocation but rather part of a "reprogrammed military assistance fund."

It is money that was supposed to have been spent in the U.S. but has now been made available to be spent in the Middle East, he said.

According to reports, Clinton had hoped for a breakthrough in Israeli-PA negotiations before Israel redeployed from south Lebanon.

Schwartz said the "Palestinian issues have to be dealt with" and they must "move substantially forward" if the two sides hope to reach a final agreement by the September 13 deadline.

Barak last met Clinton in Washington in April. As a result of that meeting, Israel agreed to a PA demand that the U.S. become more deeply involved in the negotiating process.

Despite that, the two sides still have not been able to reach any substantial agreements.

Barak has held off transferring three Arab villages outside of Jerusalem to full PA control pending an investigation into the recent flare-up of violence. The PA is upset about the postponement.

The Hebrew daily Ha'aretz said Wednesday that PA Chairman Yasser Arafat had complained to Clinton about the negotiations and asked him to intervene to break the deadlock.

The paper also said Barak wants to make sure Clinton is not going to make any surprise announcements at the Berlin summit.

Although Ha'aretz did not speculate on a possible "surprise," past meetings with Clinton have at times resulted in some "progress" being announced in negotiations, usually in the form of an Israeli concession.

'Back Channel' Talks

Talks between Israeli and PA negotiators in Stockholm were suspended last week because of escalating violence in the disputed territories. According to unconfirmed radio reports, these "back channel" talks are due to resume on Wednesday evening, but this time in the Middle East.

The Stockholm talks were secret until three weeks ago, when press leaks revealed they were taking place at the same time as the more public talks underway in the Middle East.

Clinton's special envoy, Dennis Ross, may return to the region on Friday to participate in the negotiations, according to reports.

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright may also make a trip to the Middle East early next week. The U.S. Embassy would not confirm the Secretary's travel plans.

Albright traditionally visits when an agreement is imminent. Her expected trip could signal that the two sides are approaching agreement on a "framework" for the remainder of talks on permanent status issues.

But Foreign Minister David Levy said that "in all the channels, including Stockholm, there has been no progress."

"This game is going nowhere," Levy told the foreign ambassadors' corps on Tuesday. "The issues are so complex they require decisions by the leaders."

In all the Barak-Arafat meetings he had attended, Levy said, the PA leader "never spoke substantively."

'Hizballah tactics'

Arafat warned on Tuesday that the PA was being pressed to abandon negotiations with Israel and adopt what he called "Hizballah tactics" in order to obtain concessions from Israel.

"Hizballah looks like heroes in the Arab world, while the Palestinians look like losers begging from the Israelis," Arafat said during a meeting with Israeli Environment Minister Dalia Itzik.

Analysts have warned that the PA may follow Hizballah's example after Israel's hasty retreat last week, and revert to violence in order to drive Israel from territories it claims.

Barak is committed by earlier agreements to deliver one more transfer of land to the PA prior to a final agreement, but he would prefer to wait until an outline for a final agreement is reached.

Israel has already delivered nearly 40 percent of the disputed territory - captured by Israel from Jordan in the 1967 Six-Day War - to full or partial PA control, and all major population centers are under complete PA administration.

Barak has promised that Israeli settlements will remain in blocs under Israeli sovereignty, but to fulfill this pledge he would have to retain control of some 20 percent of the West Bank.

Israelis living in these communities were alarmed this week when media reports suggested Barak had already agreed to cede 92 percent of the territory to PA control, including the strategically important Jordan Valley. But Levy later denied the reports.