The announcement that Israeli and Palestinian leaders will gather in the Washington area this week for a hastily arranged summit sent administration officials scrambling to prepare for the descending diplomatic hordes.
At the highest levels, State Department negotiators were trying to work out an agenda for the sessions, intended to break the 19-month stalemate over longstanding interim issues in the Oslo talks and pave the way for long-delayed final status negotiations. But lower down the administration hierarchy, officials were worried about the complex logistics of the meetings — and about how to keep a prying press at bay.
Since the press was calling this a “Camp David style” session, State Department officials naturally thought about the presidential retreat in rural Maryland, where the 1978 Israeli-Egyptian accords were
But Yasir Arafat quickly nixed that idea because the agreement signed there is widely regarded as a sellout of Palestinian interests by his followers.
Administration officials then turned to the Wye River Conference Center on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, where Israeli-Syrian talks were held in early 1996.
Only one problem: the Wye facility was the scheduled venue of the annual conference of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a pro-Israel think tank. After an urgent plea from Foggy Bottom, the group agreed to move to another, less cushy conference center.
But the 1,100 acre Wye facility presented a number of logistical problems — including the fact that its three residence areas will be a tight squeeze for the big delegations scheduled to arrive on Thursday.
The Aspen Institute, which owns the facility, says it can handle groups of up to 100; the Israelis alone are reported to be coming with a delegation of at least 40, including five government ministers, not to mention cadres of security personnel.
The center does have one big advantage from the administration’s point of view: its remoteness. The press center will be 2.5 miles away from the conference facility, which administration officials say will contribute to their goal of a total press blackout.
On Friday, State Department spokesman James Foley said “we are going to strive for a minimalist approach to briefing the media.”
But Israeli and Palestinian officials are dubious.
“At Camp David, the press blackout was pretty successful,” said one. “But with cell phones, that’s going to be a lot harder.”
No word yet on whether Arafat and Netanyahu plan to use the facility’s “Outward Bound” team-building program.
Anti-PLO State Resolution
With a Israeli-Palestinian summit in the offing, congressional Republicans fired a shot across the bow of an administration some feel is sending out ambiguous signals about the possibility Yasir Arafat will unilaterally declare Palestinian statehood in May, when the interim Oslo period runs out.
Just before the congressional adjournment — and amid the frenzy over the long-delayed appropriations bills and the beginning of impeachment proceedings against President Bill Clinton — a mostly Republican group of lawmakers introduced a resolution calling on the administration to “publicly and unequivocally state that the United States will actively oppose such a unilateral declaration and will not extend recognition to any unilaterally declared Palestinian state.”
Lead sponsors included Sen. Alfonse D’Amato (R-N.Y.) and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) in the Senate and Rep. Jim Saxton (R-N.J.) and Majority whip Tom Delay (R-Texas) in the House.
Pro-peace process activists say that the nonbinding resolution was an attempt to limit the administration’s options as it seeks a way to break the long impasse in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and begin final status negotiations
The sponsors “know that when you get into an intensive Camp David type situation, the U.S. needs to deliver something to both sides to bridge the final gaps,” said an official with a pro-Oslo organization.
“This congressional move is a clear attempt to preempt that by undercutting anything administration negotiators may say about Palestinian statehood.”
But pro-Israel lobbyists say the resolution has been in the works for weeks, and that it was crafted simply to repeat longstanding U.S. policy against any unilateral declaration.
Backers hoped for a quick vote before adjournment, although pro-Israel lobbyists said that it was more likely the resolution will be put off until the new Congress convenes in January.
Clark Clifford Dies
The death of Clark Clifford, an adviser to four presidents and a presence in U.S. foreign and domestic for a half-century, saddened Jewish activists who remember his pivotal role in convincing President Harry Truman to recognize Israel soon after its creation.
Clifford, who died over the weekend at the age of 91, was a top adviser to Truman when the Jewish state was declared. The president asked Clifford to outline the case for recognition. That pitted the patrician Clifford against Secretary of State George Marshall, who — along with most of the State Department — vehemently opposed recognition.
Clifford made his case effectively, and Truman extended U.S. recognition — a key element in Israel’s survival.
“He was the one who understood Jewish pain and agony,” said Hyman Bookbinder, a longtime Jewish activist here. “We’ll always remember the role he played in winning diplomatic recognition for Israel.”
Clifford was also a key figure in the rebuilding of Europe after World War II and in the creation of the Central Intelligence Agency.
Clifford was often blamed for his role in U.S. Vietnam policy — but even his critics now agree he used his short tenure as defense secretary in 1968 to oppose President Lyndon Johnson’s plans to expand the war.
But Clifford’s reputation was stained by his involvement in scandals involving the Bank of Credit and Commerce International in the early 1990s.