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World - Middle East

Sources: Israelis, Palestinians settle security issues

graphic October 22, 1998
Web posted at: 2:27 p.m. EDT (1827 GMT)

WYE MILLS, Maryland (CNN) -- Israeli and Palestinian negotiators apparently settled the contentious issue of security Thursday, diplomatic sources said, and plunged ahead in their attempts to reach an interim agreement on Middle East peace.

President Clinton traveled back to Wye Mills from the White House on Thursday to help Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat settle their remaining differences on a U.S.-proposed interim peace agreement.

Jordan's King Hussein was expected to join the talks later Thursday, after all parties on Wednesday invited the king to join the negotiations at Wye Mills.

"All the significant gaps have not been closed," said U.S. State Department spokesman James Rubin on Thursday -- the eighth day of talks -- referring to issues that remained unsettled.

James Rubin
Rubin

(Audio 623 K/33 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)
 

Rubin described Thursday's sessions as a "serious and intensive effort to try to make the key decisions necessary for us to put the peace process back on track."

U.S. officials put their peace proposal on the table Wednesday, after Netanyahu threatened to go home. The Israeli leader agreed to stay, as long as progress was being made.

"The hardest decisions are, at last, on the table," Clinton said early Thursday before leaving the White House for Wye Mills.

Rubin on Wednesday described the proposal as a "rolling document" -- up to 20 pages in length -- and said, "This is a continuing process," warning much work was left to be done.

Security issues a major breakthrough

The movement on the security issue represented a major breakthrough.

At a meeting Wednesday night, U.S., Palestinian and Israeli negotiators reached a tentative agreement on security, but, for a time, discord among the Israeli leadership blocked acceptance of that proposal.

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The Palestinians have been asking that Israel withdraw from another 13 percent of the West Bank, as called for the Oslo accords. The Israelis have demanded a comprehensive security agreement from the Palestinians, including a crackdown on terrorists.

Netanyahu, who faces a revolt from hard-line members of his government, has been under heavy political pressure not to give up too much land, and to get a detailed security agreement.

The U.S. is pushing for an agreement that will close interim issues and old agreements "so that we can get to the permanent status talks," officials said. The Oslo Accords, which map the process for a permanent peace agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians, expires on May 4, 1999.

Issues on Thursday's agenda

Rubin said he believed revisions in the Palestinian charter, the release of Palestinian prisoners by Israel and the redeployment of Israeli troops would be the focus of the latest discussions.

There are 3,000 Palestinian prisoners who would be eligible for release under the proposed interim agreement. The Palestinians say they want the United States to guarantee this would be carried out.

Israeli officials have said that no one "with blood on his hands" would be released until after final-status negotiations.

Palestinian delegates taking part in the talks say the document calls for Israel to conduct a 13 percent troop withdrawal in the West Bank, and for a shift of 14.2 percent more territory from joint to Palestinian control.

Text calling for a third-phase troop redeployment was left incomplete so the two sides could settle on the terms in parallel negotiations during final-status talks.

Sources say other issues in the proposal include: an airport in Gaza; language that would require both sides to refrain from taking unilateral actions that could jeopardize the final-status talks; and the safe passage of Palestinians between the West Bank and Gaza.

Jerusalem Bureau Chief Walter Rodgers contributed to this report.



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