Mideast leaders cite dramatic improvement in Hebron
Hussein, Netanyahu speak in late night conference
January 12, 1997
Web posted at: 5:30 p.m. EST (2230 GMT)
TEL AVIV, Israel (CNN) -- In a dramatic last-ditch diplomatic effort, Jordan's King Hussein flew to Tel Aviv Sunday and appeared to salvage talks for the disputed West Bank town of Hebron.
"We're hopeful that we'll see an agreement very soon," said U.S. negotiator Dennis Ross, speaking at a late night impromptu press conference in Tel Aviv.
Earlier Sunday, Ross canceled plans to leave for home, prompting renewed hope that peace talks were back on track.
After hastily arranged talks concluded late Sunday, Ross appeared at a podium with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and King Hussein.
"I am more than happy to contribute in some small way," said Hussein. "I leave here confident that everything will move in the right direction."
Earlier Sunday, as the talks appeared to be collapsing, King Hussein and Palestinian President Yasser Arafat telephoned Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak "and discussed with him a new formula that will be presented to Netanyahu tonight."
At issue in the latest proposal is when Israel will withdraw from portions of the city.
Netanyahu responded favorably and during the press conference suggested a deal on Hebron would follow shortly. "There is
still work to be done but I think we've made a very important step forward," Netanyahu told the news conference.
The Palestinians and Israelis still haven't signed an official deal on Hebron, but Sunday's impromptu conference was a huge improvement from the assessment earlier in the day that the talks were about to unravel in failure.
"This has been a good day for overcoming differences," said Ross, who wound up brokering the talks despite earlier instructions from U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher to return home.
"Because of progress today, they've asked me to stay. Differences have been narrowed further," he said.
Ross arrived three weeks ago to try again to forge a deal to
launch Palestinian self-rule in 80 percent of the
Israeli-occupied West Bank town, a flashpoint of Arab-Israeli
Arafat's Cabinet said late Saturday that the negotiations
with Israel had reached a crisis, saying in a statement: "The
talks are close to a dead end." And early Sunday U.S. Embassy spokesman Richard Scorza had said Ross would leave for the United States, his "assignment complete."
Ross said Saturday in Cairo that the outstanding issues
for the most part did not concern Hebron at all. The talks
had hit an impasse over a timetable for planned Israeli
withdrawals following the Hebron pullback.
Israel was due to have completed the Hebron handover 10
months ago. But violence, security concerns, and other issues
have held up a deal. Some 400 Jews and more than 100,000
Arabs live in the town.
Palestinian officials have rejected a U.S. compromise
proposal that Israel complete further West Bank withdrawals
"If the international community does not move immediately
to save the peace process ... then the whole region will
witness explosions," Arafat's Cabinet said.
Criticism of U.S. role
Earlier in the weekend, Arafat flew to Paris, where he met with French President Jacques Chirac, urging a European dimension to peace moves. Arafat then held talks with a European Union special envoy upon returning to Gaza
Palestinian officials have criticized what they see as a U.S.
"bias" in Israel's favor in the Hebron talks. Negotiator Saeb
Erakat said he did not anticipate a quick resolution of the
"The main sticking point is not something easy. It is the
nucleus of the interim agreement. It is the further
redeployments," he told reporters in Cairo.
"The second Mr. Netanyahu makes up his mind and gives his
negotiator the green light to stick to the agreement signed
in Washington ... I think we will move to implement the
outstanding commitments in the agreement," Erakat said.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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