Parties hint at potential Mideast deal
Could meetings at U.N. become a summit?September 20, 1998
Web posted at: 3:55 p.m. EDT (1955 GMT)
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JERUSALEM (CNN) -- U.S. envoy Dennis Ross wrapped up an 11-day Mideast shuttle on Sunday only hours before the beginning of the Jewish new year, saying he believed that Israelis and Palestinians both want to break the impasse in peacemaking but that they have yet to do it.
Ross held out the prospect that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat may "build on what has been done here" when both go to the United Nations in coming days.
Netanyahu confirmed progress was made during Ross' latest mission, and Arafat aide Nabil Abu Rdainah said Washington believes there is a good chance of achieving considerable progress -- or even a deal -- at the United Nations.
U.S. President Bill Clinton, who will also visit the United Nations, could get a much-needed political boost from Middle East peacemaking, and Netanyahu also would like to be seen as advancing the peace process.
Israel, like Washington, is devoting full attention to the Monica Lewinsky affair, however, and the Israeli prime minister might not want to offend his Republican friends in Congress by aiding Clinton.
Netanyahu will be in New York this week and Arafat next week to attend a session of the U.N. General Assembly. U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said she would hold separate meetings with both leaders on the margins of the U.N. meeting.
Peacemaking has been stalled since March 1997 when Israel broke ground at the site of a Jewish settlement on the edge of Jerusalem. Suicide bomb attacks on Israelis by Palestinian militants deepened the deadlock.
As Israelis completed preparations for the two-day holiday of Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year, security fears reinforced doubts about a peace breakthrough.
Israel is on high alert over threats from Palestinian militants in Hamas. Extra police and soldiers patrol city streets, and the crossing points from Palestinian-held Gaza and the West Bank have been sealed.
The sticking point in the peace talks is a dispute on how much additional West Bank territory Israel will cede to Palestinian control as called for in their previous agreements.
The parties are at odds over a U.S. initiative that calls for Israel to withdraw its troops from a further 13 percent of the West Bank in return for tougher Palestinian action against anti-Israeli militants.
The differences are believed to center on the nature of the Palestinian security measures and an Israeli demand that some of the land it hands over should be held as a "nature reserve."
Arafat's aide said a three-way meeting in New York between the Palestinians, Israel and the United States was not ruled out.
"If progress is achieved by Israel accepting the American initiative, bilateral or trilateral meetings could possibly take place, although nothing is yet planned," Abu Rdainah said.
Netanyahu -- due to leave New York next Sunday, the day Arafat arrives -- told Israel Radio in English he would not turn down a meeting with Arafat "but it seems to me that the meetings are one thing and the substance of the meeting is another."
Correspondent Jerrold Kesssel and Reuters contributed to this report.
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