Summit extended after Israelis rescind threat to bolt from talks
Despite difficulties, light at the end of the tunnel
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Web posted at: 3:42 a.m. EDT (0342 GMT)
WYE MILLS, Maryland (CNN) -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has withdrawn his threat to quit the Mideast summit as negotiators worked into the night to hammer out an interim peace agreement.
Netanyahu first threatened to leave the talks Wednesday night because Palestinians had not met key security commitments needed to keep the talks going.
But later, the Israeli leader changed his mind and decided to stay on. Netanyahu's office issued the following statement late Wednesday evening: "The Prime Minister of Israel has instructed his delegation to continue the talks with the hope of achieving an agreement. Israel wishes to achieve an agreement and hopes there is a similar desire on the Palestinian side."
An Israeli source said progress had been made Wednesday evening in the negotiations and a partial agreement could be ready Thursday.
State Department spokesman James Rubin said later Thursday both sides will have seen a text of a draft proposal for an interim agreement on most of the issues and was "hopeful" both parties would sign off on the text.
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.
President Bill Clinton is standing by at the White House to determine if his return to the summit site in Maryland could help prevent a collapse of the talks after seven days of negotiations.
Netanyahu wants 'detailed security plan'
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.
Palestinian officials had reacted angrily to Netanyahu's threats to pull out of the summit without an agreement.
"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."
Earlier Wednesday, the Israelis charged that the Palestinians had "retreated" from an already agreed-upon security plan.
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.
Sources: U.S. OK'd Palestinian security provisions
The latest round of threats and 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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