Published on Thursday, July 13, 2000 in the Manchester Guardian (UK)
Political Scandal In US As Bush Advisers Tell Israelis To Be Ready To Walk Out Of Camp David Negotiations
by Julian Borger
The Middle East peace talks at Camp David became the subject of a political scandal in the US last night when reports emerged that one of George W Bush's foreign policy advisers had warned the Israeli delegation to be prepared to walk out of negotiations.
Richard Perle, a veteran cold war warrior and former assistant secretary of state, urged the Israeli prime minister, Ehud Barak, not to agree to any settlement which left the future status of Jerusalem unresolved, according to the New York Post website.
The website quoted a message received by Mr Barak yesterday from two of his emissaries, Yoram Ben-Ze'ev and Yossi Alpher. The two men said Mr Perle "asked us to send a clear message" to Mr Barak that it would be a "catastrophe" if the Jerusalem question was not dealt with, and urged him "to walk away" from the Camp David negotiations if faced with that outcome.
Mr Bush's office had no comment on the report yesterday. Mr Ben-Ze'ev, contacted by mobile phone, said he was in Houston, Texas - Governor Bush's home state - but would not explain the purpose of his visit and also refused to comment on the newspaper report.
Democrats responded angrily to what they portrayed as Republican meddling in the delicate negotiations currently under way at the presidential retreat at Camp David, Maryland, aimed at reaching a final settlement in the 52-year Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
"While I and all Americans are hoping and praying that the critical meeting at Camp David will be the beginning of a new era of peace for the Middle East, some are playing politics with this historic opportunity," said Sam Gejdenson, the ranking Democratic mem ber of the house committee on international relations.
Mr Gejdenson described Mr Perle's alleged intervention as "an outrage" and urged Mr Bush to disown his advisers' remarks. "In matters of life and death there is no room for politics and ego," he said.
In a further complication to the talks, entering their third day today, sources close to Yasser Arafat said he intended to summon Palestinian politicians to Camp David to discuss the next step.
Joe Lockhart, the White House spokesman, said the US mediators had not been informed of Mr Arafat's inten tions and said there was no provision in the Camp David ground rules for delegation members to come and go.
Mr Barak meanwhile offered his hosts a gift, promising to scrap the planned sale of a sophisticated airborne radar system to China. This would remove a longstanding irritant to US-Israel relations and lift a potential obstacle to increased US financial aid.
"They took into account our security concerns. We appreciate that and we welcome the decision," Mr Lockhart said.
Gadi Baltiansky, the chief Israeli spokesman at the talks, said Mr Barak had agreed to cancel the sale of the Phalcon early warning system to China at a Tuesday night meeting with President Clinton. The decision, Mr Baltiansky said, was aimed at improving the country's "intimate relations" with the US.
"Israel is right now together with the United States in the midst of an effort to achieve historic decisions relating to her vital interests," Mr Baltiansky said, explaining the background to the announcement. He said Mr Barak had "expressed sorrow" over the deal's cancellation in a letter to the Chinese president, Jiang Zemin.
© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2000