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World - Middle East

Israelis threaten summit walkout

Graphic October 21, 1998
Web posted at: 9:57 p.m. EDT (2157 GMT)

In this story:

WYE MILLS, Maryland (CNN) -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has threatened to quit the Mideast summit Thursday morning unless the Palestinians revise their security provisions for an interim peace accord.

Earlier Wednesday evening, Netanyahu said he would leave the talks at 10 p.m. Wednesday. He later extended the deadline to early Thursday, but Israeli sources gave conflicting times for his planned departure.

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U.S. President Bill Clinton is standing by at the White House to determine if his return to the summit site in Maryland could prevent a collapse of the talks after seven days of negotiations.

Netanyahu "wants to make this peace process work," said Dore Gold, the Israeli ambassador to the United Nations. "But he needs to have assurances that a detailed security plan exists to offset the risks he is taking" in agreeing to give up more West Bank territory.

Gold cited "concrete" details Israel wants added to the Palestinian plan to combat terrorism, including the names of suspected terrorists and organizations that will be targeted and a timetable for when the measures will go into effect.

Informed of Netanyahu's threat to leave, White House spokesman Joe Lockhart said, "That's very unfortunate, because we believe there is a sufficient basis to move forward with this peace effort."

Palestinians: 'A dangerous step'

If Netanyahu pulls out of the summit, "it will be a dangerous step," said Ahmed Tibi, an adviser to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. "Very unjustified. I am appealing to Mr. Netanyahu to remain here to continue discussions and to sign a treaty as soon as possible."

Dore Gold
Dore Gold  

Earlier, State Department spokesman James Rubin said the United States was moving ahead with plans to provide both sides with a draft text of an interim agreement.

The Israelis had threatened to walk out of the talks earlier in the day, charging that the Palestinians had "retreated" from an already agreed-upon security plan.

"This is not land for peace. This is land for nothing," said an Israeli source, who asked not to be identified. "We are not getting our basic security requirements, and so the prime minister's office has begun to prepare for the flight home."

The Palestinians countered that they have agreed to a comprehensive plan, which Clinton delivered to the Israelis.

"The security issues were settled between American and Palestinian officials," Tibi said, adding that the Israelis "are raising new demands" for security.

Rubin would not discuss Clinton's stance on the latest rift between the two sides.

U.S.: 'We can't hold people against their will'

In response to the initial threat of an Israeli pullout, Rubin said, "We want to do all we reasonably can do to provide constructive solutions to real problems. But we can't hold people here against their will, and we can't make the tough choices for them."

Ahmed Tibi
Ahmed Tibi  

Rubin said that the United States would stay at the talks "as long as the other parties are willing to."

He said the bulk of the draft text of an interim accord contained what both parties had already agreed to, with items still in dispute to appear in "brackets."

The goal of the document is to set the terms to move the interim agreement forward and allow for the beginning of final status negotiations.

Sources: U.S. OK'd Palestinian security provisions

The latest round of accusations comes one day after negotiators on both sides said that a complete interim agreement had almost been reached.

"We have turned over a complete security plan to the Americans," said Hassan Abdel Rahman, Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) ambassador to the United States. "President Clinton himself approved it and was happy with it."

Rahman accused the Israelis of looking for a pretext to end the summit without an agreement.

Another source close to the talks said, "The Americans believe (the Palestinians) have responded across the board. The Palestinians, in a serious and effective way, responded in all categories of security they were asked to work on."

Sources said that while Clinton and Arafat had agreed on the security proposal, several members of Netanyahu's Cabinet were not satisfied and were posturing to see who could stake out the most hard-line position on security.

Senior White House Correspondent Wolf Blitzer and State Department Correspondent Andrea Koppel contributed to this report.

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