WASHINGTON — After their first full night of sleep in 15 days, exhausted Clinton administration officials began work Wednesday on a two-pronged strategy to keep the deadlocked Mideast peace process alive.
The dual goals are to help Israel deal with an expected Palestinian declaration of statehood this fall and to help nurture discussions within the Arab world about the terms for peace, particularly over control of Jerusalem.
President Clinton said Wednesday that he now believes a final accord will require "more time and more reflection, and probably less pressure, than was available in our 15 days at Camp David."
The administration said it expects the two sides to resume negotiations at a lower level soon. "It's likely that any pause will be brief, as both sides will want to resume negotiations in an effort to see what more they can achieve," said Aaron D. Miller, the State Department's deputy Mideast coordinator for Arab-Israeli negotiations.
At the same time, however, officials are privately pessimistic that they will be able to seal a deal between the Israelis and Palestinians before Clinton leaves office in January.
"We obviously have to stay engaged, but the timeline was a problem for all sides from the beginning, and now it's catching up with us," said a senior administration official.
Over the next few weeks, the administration is likely to dispatch a senior official to Israel and the Palestinian Authority to try to broker terms that will make a Palestinian declaration of statehood acceptable to Israel. Authority President Yasser Arafat is expected to unilaterally declare statehood sometime between Sept. 13 and Dec. 31.
Although no final decisions have been made, a senior official is also likely to go to the Arab world to help win a broader Arab consensus behind an eventual compromise on the thorniest issue: how to split jurisdiction over Jerusalem.
Looking back, U.S. officials now say that the Arab world's failure to agree to step back from its 33-year claims on Jerusalem left Arafat feeling too vulnerable to take such a momentous step alone. To break the deadlock, the Arab world will have to be more engaged and supportive.
"People have to start thinking about what they are willing to pay for a settlement," said a senior official. "Anyone who clings to the idea of all or nothing will inevitably get nothing."
Of all the players involved in Mideast peace efforts, the administration may be most frustrated and disappointed with its Arab allies. Key leaders refused to rally behind U.S. efforts, despite Clinton's calls to the leaders of Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Morocco and Tunisia and despite Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak's talks with Jordan's King Abdullah II and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on the eve of the summit.
While all the leaders praised the American effort, not one was prepared to get involved or offer a public endorsement. Egypt even turned down a White House request to have one of its senior officials be in Washington during the talks.
The White House now believes that the main benefit of the summit will be a new openness and debate on both sides of the Arab-Israeli divide about long-standing taboos, a debate that U.S. officials believe will pave the way for eventual acceptance of a compromise.
Clinton said Wednesday that all sides need to "get used to talking about something for a little bit before you can then entertain how you can create an edifice that you hadn't previously imagined."
He said he hoped that the Camp David talks would "spark a whole range of articles in the press, commentators on TV programs [and] other people talking and thinking" about ways to be innovative and open about the terms for peace.
U.S. officials provided a general outline of the deal that was on the table at Camp David, including:
* On the West Bank: Palestinian control of at least 90% of the area.
* On refugees: A mixture including return for some Palestinians to the West Bank or Gaza Strip and compensation to others, but no return of refugees to places where their families lived in Israel.
* On Jerusalem: A mixture of full Palestinian sovereignty over some neighborhoods, with "special regimes"--or special governance arrangements--for the holy sites.
* Full, recognized Palestinian statehood.
The greatest immediate obstacle to any deal may be timing. Arafat wants a protracted process to allow the Palestinians and the Arab world to digest each compromise and then prepare for further steps. Barak prefers a single "moment of truth" final session, one of the senior officials said.
The other complication, U.S. mediators say, is that Clinton's clout will in effect begin diminishing as of Labor Day.
Staff writer James Gerstenzang in Washington contributed to this report.