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Breakdown Of Peace Talks

  • What was behind the overly publicized stall in the Mideast peace process? Read on to find out.
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By Clayton Potts

While the Israelis and Palestinians have no trouble finding areas of disagreement, what really crippled the Mideast peace talks was growing resistance in Congress to a huge payoff.

Resistance began building after The SPOTLIGHT reported on July 24 that a peace agreement would cost taxpayers big bucks -- up to $240 billion in the years ahead.

Many in Congress simply refused to buy the "peace at any price" proposition. The 1979 Camp David agreement be tween Israel and Egypt has cost taxpayers more than $100 billion -- and counting.

Top Republican leaders promptly sent President Clinton a letter reminding him that Congress is the "sole authority" for spending money on a peace pact.

Clinton had effectively bribed both sides to reach an accord and leave him a peace "legacy." The letter from House Speaker Denny Hastert (R-Ill.), Major ity Leader Dick Armey (R-Tex.) and Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) was a warning to all sides that Congress was writing no blank checks.

"We expect to be fully apprised of all aspects of the negotiations prior to entering any commitments on behalf of the United States," they wrote Clinton. "Your administration must work in concert with the Congress."

Resistance to big payoffs to buy Clin ton a legacy is widespread.

Rep. Sonny Callahan (R-Ala.) "is very concerned that a lame-duck administration looking for a legacy ... might be willing to write a blank check to get an agreement," spokesman Jo Bonner told The Washington Times.

Any money promised by Clinton would amount to "empty promises" without congressional support, said John Czwar tacki, spokesman for Senate Majority Lea der Trent Lott (R-Miss.). "Congress has to be a partner in this," he said.

Congressional staffers expressed anger at the administration's refusal to brief Congress on the talks. In the absence of substantive reports from the White House, congressional staffers resorted to translating Israeli news reports from Hebrew to glean any information about the closed-door talks.

Responding to congressional anger, White House aides flooded Capitol Hill with calls saying the president does not yet have a price tag for the talks.

The White House leaked small figures eagerly accepted by the mainstream press, estimating the U.S price for peace at $17 billion. The theory is that such a "small amount" would be readily accepted by the American people.

However, skeptical congressmen are aware that the full price of the Israeli-Egypt settlement became evident only as the years passed. They regard the $17 billion as a small "down payment" on a huge, looming commitment.