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Arafat concludes second meeting with Clinton
WASHINGTON -- With the clock ticking on the Clinton administration and continued violence in the Middle East, Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat visited the White House twice Tuesday for talks aimed at reviving the stalled peace process.
Arafat left the White House Tuesday night after about an hour of discussions. There was no immediate word on how the talks went.
The late-night talks followed an earlier meeting Tuesday afternoon. During the afternoon session, U.S. President Bill Clinton and Arafat talked about ways to reduce Israeli-Palestinian violence and dealt with questions Arafat has about Clinton's proposals for a Mideast settlement, White House officials said.
Clinton had put forward the ideas last month as a basis for negotiations.
Tuesday afternoon's two-hour 10-minute meeting included a one-on-one session in which the two leaders spoke for 30 minutes with only a translator present. Arafat declined to comment on those talks on departing the White House.
Agreement 'unlikely,' Barak says
The Clinton-Arafat talks came as further violence and an increasing body count drew a veil of pessimism over the prospects for peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
After a telephone conversation Clinton had Monday with Arafat, the Palestinian leader came to Washington to clarify details of the president's proposals, even as both sides expressed doubts that any agreement was at hand.
Both sides have expressed skepticism about the possibility of a Mideast agreement before Clinton leaves office on January 20 or before Israel's February 6 vote for a new prime minister. Prime Minister Ehud Barak considers the vote a referendum on his policies seeking a peace agreement.
Barak said on Israeli radio Tuesday that it was "unlikely" any agreement could be reached before Clinton leaves office on January 20.
Barak also told reporters it was "not probable" an agreement could be reached before Israel's election. He's also accused Arafat of wasting time by "dragging his feet."
Still, White House Press Secretary Jake Siewert said there was reason for hope. He reiterated Clinton's statement that Arafat and Barak were "closer than they have ever been" to an agreement, although he acknowledged both sides have much work ahead of them.
Major differences remain
Although Clinton's proposals were never officially made public, reports indicated that they envisioned an independent Palestinian state covering 95 percent of the West Bank and all of Gaza. Additionally, it is believed the proposals included Palestinian control over Haram al-Sharif, a Muslim holy spot in east Jerusalem, known to and revered by Jews as the Temple Mount.
In exchange, the Palestinians were to drop their demand for a right of return for Palestinian refugees -- and their descendants -- who fled or were driven out of Israel when it was founded in 1948.
Initially, the Israeli government indicated it was prepared, with reservations, to negotiate on the basis of Clinton's proposals, but the Palestinians declared they needed more details.
In the days that followed, Barak said that he would never sign an agreement that handed over sovereignty of the Temple Mount. The Palestinians followed with a declaration that they would never give up the refugees' right of return to Israel, a point the Israelis said was non-negotiable.
With each side blaming the other for the continuation of violence, both Barak and Arafat face tremendous pressure from their constituencies to make no further concessions.
So far, 328 Palestinians have been killed since the latest round of violence began on September 28, according to the Palestine Red Crescent Society.
Forty-five Israeli Jews have been killed since that time, along with 13 Israeli Arabs, according to the Israel Defense Forces.
Refugees a key issue for Palestinians
David Horowitz, editor of the Israeli news magazine The Jerusalem Report, told CNN that the Palestinian reservations about Clinton's proposals were "so profound and so central as to effectively render those proposals unworkable.
"The Israeli feeling is that there's really no mileage left in this diplomatic effort, and that (there is) a very bleak future to look forward to," he said.
Ghassan Al-Khatib, a Palestinian political analyst and publisher of the Palestine Report, said that the Clinton proposals fail to address some very crucial points for the Palestinians.
"Some of it has to do with Palestinian refugees because the American ideas avoided explaining what is going to be the future of those refugees and they presented their ideas in very general terms," he said.
Al-Khatib rejected the Israeli contention that Arafat is not serious about peace.
"Arafat is willing to help end the conflict in a final way ... but only when Israel is willing to end completely its occupation (of) all the Palestinian-occupied territories," he said.
Horowitz, however, saw weak Palestinian leadership as the main block to peace.
"I think the Israeli governments down the years have prepared their people for the necessity for painful compromise," he said. "I think the Palestinian leadership has failed to prepare its people for the need to forego some of their maximal demands."
Still, Palestinian officials held out some hope for a settlement.
"(Arafat's meeting with Clinton) could help in holding a three-way meeting or a return to negotiations," said Palestinian Cabinet minister Nabil Shaath. "All this depends on the results of the meeting."
And Barak left room for further negotiations, saying he would consider sending representatives to Washington providing "terrorism" in the region ends.
Violence continued on Tuesday
Despite the Clinton-Arafat talks, the violence continued Tuesday.
Israeli soldiers shot dead a 52-year-old Palestinian farmer with a gunshot to the neck, the Palestinian Red Crescent said. Palestinian police said he was shot by Israeli troops as he worked on his land near the Jewish settlement of Dugit. But the Israelis said they fired after an explosion in the area and immediately shot in the direction of the blast, in accordance with procedures designed to prevent ambushes.
In other violence, two Israeli motorists were wounded, one of them seriously, when their car was fired on near a checkpoint on the road from Jerusalem to Modiin in the West Bank, Israeli authorities said.
Additionally, at least two Israeli soldiers were injured as a number of explosions went off near army patrols around Jewish settlements in Gaza, one day after a car bomb injured more than 40 people in the Israeli resort city of Netanya.
Israeli defense officials said one of those soldiers was injured when a roadside bomb exploded near an Israeli patrol outside the Jewish settlement of Kfar Drom in the south of Gaza.
The Associated Press reported that seven Palestinians were wounded as they rode in a jeep near the Egyptian border, but it did not provide details.
CNN National Security Correspondent David Ensor and CNN Correspondent Matthew Chance contributed to this report.
Arafat to meet Clinton on Middle East peace on Tuesday
Palestinian National Authority
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