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World - Middle East

Arafat, Netanyahu optimistic ahead of Mideast summit

Peace October 14, 1998
Web posted at: 10:10 p.m. EDT (0210 GMT)

In this story

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- As they headed for Thursday's peace summit in the United States, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat expressed optimism about the prospects of reaching a deal to reignite the stalled Middle East peace process.

"Personally, I believe this is a window of opportunity not only for us Palestinians, not only for Israel, but for the whole Middle East," Arafat said during a stop in London.

"We believe (the talks) can succeed. Israel is prepared to do its part if the Palestinians do their part ... especially in the field of security and other outstanding issues," Netanyahu told reporters after meeting Jordan's Crown Prince Hassan.

On Thursday, Arafat and Netanyahu are to meet with President Bill Clinton at the White House, then travel to the summit site, the Wye River Conference Centers in Maryland, where secluded discussions will be moderated by U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

The parties are trying to reach a deal that has eluded them for 19 months. Under it, Israel would withdraw from additional West Bank territory and Palestinians would give iron-clad commitments to clamp down on Islamic militants, particularly the Hamas movement's militant wing.

Deal likely by Sunday

While the two sides have been playing down expectations about what the summit can accomplish, CNN has learned that by the end of the summit on Sunday, top negotiators for the Israelis and Palestinians expect to have a deal.

President Clinton's welcoming statement
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"Normally, the United States president does not convene a trilateral summit meeting if all three parties do not understand very well that there will be an agreement," said Joel Singer, a former Israeli peace negotiator.

The models for the summit are the marathon Egyptian-Israeli negotiations at Camp David, Maryland, that led to a 1978 peace treaty, and the 1995 talks at an Air Force base in Dayton, Ohio, that led to a pact to end Bosnia's civil war.

"Clearly, there are grave dangers ahead if the peace process is not put back on track," State Department spokesman James Rubin said.

Netanyahu faces pressure at home

Earlier in the week, Netanyahu assumed a more skeptical tone about prospects for the summit, but came under U.S. pressure to strike a more conciliatory stance. His change of mood also came after what Palestinian sources described as a successful meeting between the two sides on security issues.

Israel's ambassador to the United States, Zalman Shoval, said U.S. negotiators would present Arafat with a document that calls for the Palestinians to take "very specific" steps to counter terrorism on the West Bank.

But chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat termed as unreasonable a demand by Netanyahu that the Palestinian Authority destroy the infrastructure of Hamas' militant wing.

As he heads to the summit site, Netanyahu is also under domestic political pressure. Thousands of right-wing Israelis demonstrated outside the prime minister's residence Wednesday to send the message that they don't want Israel to give up any more West Bank land.

"Bibi, don't bail out Bill and betray us," said one placard, alluding to Clinton's sex scandal and Netanyahu's nickname.

Correspondent Andrea Koppel and Reuters contributed to this report.

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