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Israelis, Palestinians consider U.S. proposal


  WEB EXCLUSIVE

In this story:

Arafat: Proposals fall short

Barak and Mubarak to meet

Jerusalem to become dual capital?

RELATED STORIES, SITES icon



JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Israeli and Palestinian leaders were looking over a so-called "bridging proposal" from U.S. President Bill Clinton on Tuesday, trying to determine if enough progress had been made in Mideast peace talks to warrant a Washington summit that would produce a signed agreement.

But fresh violence erupted in the West Bank, even as Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak said that Israel was prepared to accept the American proposal if Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat did as well.

After a recent lull in hostilities, a fierce gun battle between Palestinians and Israeli troops erupted near the West Bank city of Nablus early Tuesday, the Israeli army reported.

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The Israel Defense Forces said the fighting began overnight when Palestinians opened fire on a Jewish settlement. Israeli troops responded by firing heavy machine gun rounds, the Israeli army said. No casualties have been reported, and no immediate word came from the Palestinians about the firefight.

There have been no deaths reported in nearly three days, but the Israeli army said two Jewish settlers were wounded on Monday night when Palestinian demonstrators near the West Bank town of Bethlehem pelted their car with stones.

And on Tuesday, the Palestinian group Hamas, which opposes negotiations, claimed responsibility for a suicide attack last week in an Israeli-owned West Bank cafe in which three Israeli soldiers were injured, wire services reported.

Arafat: Proposals fall short

Speaking on Israeli television on Monday night, Barak said that the Israelis would be hard-pressed to find a reason not "to discuss the ideas of President Clinton."

"And if the other side will respond affirmatively, we will find ourselves in a great deal of difficulty to respond negatively," he added.

But Arafat said some of the U.S. ideas, presented after five days of U.S.-hosted talks last week, fell short of proposals he had already rejected at July's failed Camp David meetings.

Negotiations have been stalemated since those talks collapsed and were further undermined by nearly three months of violence in which at least 373 people have died. At least 321 of the dead were Palestinians, 39 were Israeli Jews and 13 were Israeli Arabs.

Clinton, who steps down January 20, has set a Wednesday deadline for the parties to decide whether his ideas are an acceptable basis for continuing talks.

Barak faces a deadline of his own. A special election for his post is set for February 6 following his abrupt resignation on December 10. Barak hopes to forge a deal, and use the election as a referendum on the agreement.

Barak and Mubarak to meet

Barak told Israel Channel 2 television on Monday: "The natural tendency is of course to want a lot of changes. ... If the other side agrees to accept the (ideas) as they are, then we too will need to accept them.

"I am not sure, however, that that is the situation, and at the moment I don't know what the answers of the sides will be," he added.

Arafat flew to Cairo on Monday to brief Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on Clinton's proposals. Barak is to meet with Mubarak on Thursday at Sharm El-Sheikh.

"(The U.S. proposals) demand deep study, as some of the positions were much less than what was proposed at Camp David," Arafat told reporters on his return to Gaza City.

Both sides being tight-lipped about what is on the table. But the package is said to contain far-reaching compromises on four key issues -- the status of Jerusalem, the final borders of Israel, the fate of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza, and the right of return for Palestinian refugees.

Jerusalem to become dual capital?

While the proposals are described as general guidelines, they are said to provide that Israel would have sovereignty over Israeli neighborhoods of Jerusalem while Palestinians would have sovereignty over Arab neighborhoods. The city could be the capital of both countries.

The guidelines reportedly call for the Palestinians to have sovereignty over Haram al-Sharif, the Noble Sanctuary, one of the holiest places in Islam, a site known as the Temple Mount to Jews. The Israelis would have sovereignty over the Western Wall -- the sole remaining portion of the biblical temple --at the bottom of the Temple Mount.

Another key proposal is that Palestinian refugees would have the right to return "to a Palestinian state." That would mean thousands of refugees would come to the West Bank and Gaza from Lebanon, Syria and Jordan, but would also leave thousands of others where they are now in the territories that would make up the Palestinian state.

Another proposal was said to put 97 percent of the West Bank under Palestinian control. The Palestinians want to know what map is being used and what land is involved.

Additionally, part of the proposal has the international community helping in the implementation of the agreement. The Palestinians have been pushing for the U.N. Security Council to get involved. The Israelis are said to be willing to go along.



RELATED STORIES:
Fighting, talks loom over Bethlehem
December 25, 2000
Mideast peace at 'moment of truth'
December 24, 2000
Mideast talks inconclusive
December 23, 2000
Israeli, Palestinian negotiators take up difficult issues with Clinton
December 23, 2000
Mike Hanna: Mideast officials on each side under pressure at home
December 22, 2000
Mideast negotiators 'reducing the differences'
December 22, 2000


RELATED SITES:
Israel Defense Forces (in Hebrew)
Israeli Prime Minister's Office
Palestinian Authority President
The White House

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