Netanyahu, Arafat: Meeting a new beginning
October 8, 1997
Web posted at: 11:07 p.m. EDT (0307 GMT)
From Correspondent Jerrold Kessel
JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Wednesday's early morning meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat seems to have given a much-needed breath of optimism to a peace process that seemed to be suffocating.
U.S. Middle East envoy Dennis Ross, for one, seemed unusually upbeat about the outcome of the last-minute meeting.
"They conducted this meeting in a spirit of partnership, recognizing that they have common interests and common stakes," Ross said. "They each felt, and each said, that it was a new beginning."
According to Ross, Arafat and Netanyahu have agreed to meet regularly, which he sees as a hopeful sign that could restore confidence and credibility between the peace partners.
However, the Palestinians say Wednesday's meeting is only a start. "The only thing that would lead to that is for the Palestinian people to see the implementation of the outstanding commitments on the ground -- and to see that Mr. Netanyahu decides to stop settlement activities (and) confiscation of lands," said chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat.
Netanyahu and Arafat acknowledge they had another common purpose in mind for their meeting -- how to effectively curb Palestinian Islamic factions that are less hospitable toward Israel and the peace process.
One such group, Hamas, has been flying high since the release of its spiritual leader, Sheik Ahmed Yassin, and reports that Israeli intelligence agents allegedly tried and failed to kill a Hamas leader in Amman, Jordan.
In Israel, Netanyahu is facing withering domestic criticism for the incident in Amman. He has tried to mute that criticism with the appointment of a special commission to investigate the alleged plot.
But that was undermined Wednesday when Jordan's King Hussein confirmed he had contacted Israel about a peace feeler from Hamas.
"Forty-eight hours before the painful incident, I sent a letter to Israel's Prime Minister Netanyahu that there was a possibility to discuss establishing a dialogue between Hamas and them," Hussein said.
A statement issued by the prime minister's office said there was no letter and that word from the king about the Hamas overture only reached Netanyahu after the Amman incident occurred.
That has triggered speculation in the Israeli press that Netanyahu may be trying to dump blame on the head of Israel's Mossad spy agency, Danny Yatom, by saying the information from the king never got through to him.