The Middle East peace deal, signed yesterday after nine days of intense negotiations, sprawls across all front pages--the Washington Post, the New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times. The papers' tone is cautiously optimistic: They concur that the agreement--in which Israel cedes more West Bank land to the Palestinians and gets promises of increased security--essentially retraces the 1993 and 1995 Oslo accords. Nonetheless it lays groundwork, both personal and substantive, for further talks.
The deal was almost derailed at sunrise yesterday, when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu threatened not to sign the accord unless the U.S. released Jonathon Pollard, a well-known spy for Israel. After several more hours of haggling, Netanyahu finally agreed to sign the accord, while President Clinton's reported refusal to free Pollard receded to a public announcement that he would "review this matter seriously." (Meanwhile, Israeli TV and radio stations had already trumpeted Pollard's impending freedom. This infuriated U.S. officials who, according to the WP, described Netanyahu in "unprintable terms.")
Under the agreement, Israelis will cede an additional 13 percent of West Bank land to the Palestinians and will release 750 Palestinian prisoners. The Palestinians, meanwhile, will take concrete measures to combat terrorism: They will expunge anti-Israel clauses from their charter, jail 30 Palestinians wanted in Israel for terrorism, and crack down on illegal weaponry. In an unusual twist (which has rattled some U.S. observers), the CIA will monitor the implementation of these provisions.
The agreement sidesteps the most prickly points of contention, including the status of Jerusalem, border issues, and the fate of Palestinian refugees. Nonetheless, it represents a bold political shift for Netanyahu in particular, whose campaign platform opposed the Oslo accords.
The "people" dimension of the agreement almost overshadows its substance. The WP turns somersaults because Netanyahu shook Arafat's hand three--three!!!--times. The physical tableau is striking: Netanyahu and Clinton, both "tall and hale" (thanks, NYT), beside the ailing Arafat in his inevitable headdress and frail, bald King Hussein of Jordan.
Clinton as always emerges the tireless warrior. A WP editorial cynically and perspicaciously says, "It was in the cards that Israelis and Palestinians would come to a wall, blame each other and call on President Clinton to save the ... talks." Clinton, for his part, got the public back-patting he craved just 11 days before the November elections.
An interesting detail: The WP notes that the signing concluded just 16 minutes before the Sabbath (Washington time)-which sparked some controversy in Israel, where the Sabbath was already well underway. A prominent Israeli rabbi voiced fears that the live broadcast would tempt even devout Jews to the television.
The LAT fronts the latest bad-novel twist in Monday's shooting of a Tennessee state senate incumbent: the arrest of his shady campaign opponent, Byron "Low Tax" Looper. Looper, who is already under investigation for theft, peculiarly disappeared from public view after the murder, and was nabbed by police yesterday. His name will remain on the ballot, but he will undoubtedly be trounced by a write-in candidate: the popular senator's widow, Charlotte Burks.
A NYT "Business" article says that champagne makers are psyched for the Year 2000. Production is rising, and special Year 2000 champagnes (complete with special silk ribbons and red wax seals) are headed for the market. The price for some premier double-magnums auctioned off last year for a charity fundraiser: $2,500 to $4,000.