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Mideast summit destined to have no significant effect

Oct. 18, 2000

Tuesday morning reports of a cease-fire between Palestinians and Israelis left President Bill Clinton optimistic about future peace agreements between the two nations.

Except Tuesday's cease-fire agreement wasn't between two nations; it was between three leaders, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and President Bill Clinton. And the so-called agreement wasn't even written down and signed by the three leaders. Instead, it was a verbal agreement that Barak and Arafat would issue public statements ordering the fighting to stop; would require a redeployment of Israeli forces from the Palestinian border, the reopening of Palestinian territories and the Gaza airport; and the United Nations would lead an inquiry about the last two-and-a-half weeks of violence that have been responsible for nearly 100 deaths. This last measure is only a small compromise on Barak's part, who wanted the United States to head the inquiry.

After the meeting, Clinton issued a statement saying he was encouraged by the summit's result, but within hours, reports of continued fighting in the Middle East surfaced. A CNN report said one Palestinian was killed hours after the summit's end, with seven more Palestinians and two Israelis being injured.

Even before reports of these post-summit clashes surfaced, I felt Clinton had no right to brag about accomplishing anything meaningful at the summit. This meeting was between three people who came to an agreement that both Arafat and Barak refused to

make binding. For decades, Palestinians and Israelis have been at war with each other. It is unlikely that a summit held over a period of a couple of days could have any real chance of ushering in peace in the Middle East.

Even if, by no small miracle, Clinton was able to negotiate a peace accord with Arafat and Barak, it's important to remember that the agreement is between three men, not three countries. All the verbal agreements in the world will not eradicate a problem so intractable as the Middle East conflict. Until a majority of citizens in the two nations decide on a peaceful process, any so-called 'cease-fire agreements' are meaningless.

I'm not suggesting that Clinton shouldn't have attempted some sort of agreement. The bloodshed and turmoil that has wracked Palestine and Israel for decades, and especially in the past two weeks, must stop, and as the leader of the most powerful nation in the world, Clinton has a responsibility to work on a compromise. But it was a bit premature of Clinton to call the summit a success when the results of the very loose agreement remained to be seen.

The peace process has to start somewhere, and if the two sides can't agree on anything beyond a verbal cease-fire agreement, then at least it's a start. But before the United States declares a significant step toward peace, next time, the compromise should have a real chance of helping the situation, and any declaration of a successful meeting should be delayed until the results of such a meeting can be seen.

I commend Clinton, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and other U. S. officials who have worked tirelessly toward alleviating the unrest that has wracked the region in the last three weeks.

But, as Tuesday's post-summit events showed, it's simply a start, not an end. I'm certainly no expert on foreign policy or diplomacy.

But I know enough to know that if decades of violence among two countries is to stop, a day or two of talks among three leaders is not sufficient, and for Clinton to believe otherwise is tragically optimistic.

Of course, hopes of peace start with the countries' leaders, Barak and Arafat, which, if CNN's reports Tuesday are any indication, don't seem willing to compromise. But even if the two leaders were intent on a peace process, truly lasting peace won't come about until the people of Palestine and Israel take a step back from their anger to look at how much blood has been shed in the course of their conflict.

Little is clear about the Middle East turmoil except that all parties involved have a long road ahead of them, one that must be paved with true intentions of compromising.

(Helen Humphrey is a junior journalism major from Oklahoma City.)