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World - Middle East

Clinton, Arafat and Netanyahu to hold talks on peace process

Arafat
Arafat turns to Clinton during his speech before the Palestine National Council  
December 14, 1998
Web posted at: 10:30 p.m. EST (0330 GMT)

In this story:

GAZA CITY, Gaza (CNN) -- The three parties to the threatened land-for-security deal are set to meet in hopes of pushing forward the Middle East peace process.

U.S. President Bill Clinton, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat plan to meet at the Erez crossing near the Israel-Gaza border Tuesday morning, as Clinton wraps up his visit to the region.

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"We're going to review what has happened here in the last couple of days, and then think about how to move forward," U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said.

Officials said the meeting would focus on renewing talks on establishing a permanent Israeli-Palestinian peace, and on reviving committees created by the Wye River accord to deal with issues such as prisoner releases and street violence.

The trilateral talks come a day after Palestinian leaders removed a contentious issue dating back to 1964 by approving a measure affirming the right of Israel to exist.

Israeli officials welcomed the move, but cautioned that more action must be taken to revive the faltering peace process.

Rising from their seats and voting by raising their hands, the Palestine National Council (PNC) voted nearly unanimously Monday to remove clauses from the Palestine Liberation Organization charter that call for the destruction of Israel.

Handshake
Clinton and Arafat shake hands following Arafat's speech  

"I hope this will close the chapter forever," said Arafat, who spoke at length in favor of the action.

Following Arafat's speech, Clinton, the first U.S. president to visit Palestinian territory, addressed the assembly.

Applauding Arafat for moving toward peace with Israel, Clinton said, "I know the way is often difficult and frustrating, but you have come to this point through a commitment to peace and negotiations."

More than 450 members of the PNC attended the meeting, along with hundreds of other Palestinian notables, including former guerrilla fighters and suspected terrorists.

The PNC meeting was one of the requirements of the Wye accord that Clinton helped negotiate. The accord says the delegates were to "reaffirm" a letter from Arafat to Clinton in which he lists the clauses of the PLO founding charter that are considered null and void.

Israel welcomes move, wants more action

Netanyahu called the decision "important," but asked for additional Palestinian actions to move the peace process forward.

"I hope they speedily comply with other commitments," he said.

Despite the vote, Israel held fast to a recent decision to continue holding thousands of Palestinian prisoners.

Netanyahu
Netanyahu  

The Palestinians consider them prisoners of war and have demanded their release.

Netanyahu said Palestinians must stop West Bank violence and publicly withdraw from plans to proclaim a state in May 1999 before the peace process can continue.

Israel has indicated it would not pull back troops on Friday, as required under the Wye accord, even if the PNC session met its expectations.

One Palestinian official expressed disappointment with the Israeli prime minister.

"We ask Mr. Netanyahu to stop looking for excuses and pretexts for not going with the agreement," said chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat.

"We urge Netanyahu to give this a chance by starting the implementation of his commitments," he added. "We won't accept any logic ... any excuses."

The Palestinians would "not accept any delay. This agreement is unique because it has a time-frame," he said.

Struggle for Peace
 
. . . .

News:

  • Wye River Memorandum

    Background:

  • Mideast Timeline
  • The West Bank in Brief
  • Key Players

    Maps:

  • Middle East
  • Israel
  • Land-for-peace deal

    Interactive:
  • Message board


  •  

    'Serious and willing'

    Delegates at the PNC assembly said the Palestinians were committed to peace.

    "We are serious and willing to go ahead and achieve peace for both Israel and the Palestinians," said former guerrilla fighter Abu Sharif, who reportedly plotted airplane hijackings in the 1970s and recruited the terrorist Carlos the Jackal.

    Others in the audience included Mohammed Oudeh, implicated by Israeli and American intelligence experts in planning the hostage-taking at the 1972 Munich Olympics that left 11 Israeli athletes dead.

    Most of the delegates were middle-aged men in dark suits, many of them graying and balding. Some wore gold-embroidered caps of the Palestinian security forces, others traditional white headdresses.

    The Palestinian Authority permitted Israeli TV stations to broadcast live from the Shawa Center and Israeli reporters to move freely to interview delegates.

    In Jerusalem, legislators crowded around a TV set in the cafeteria of Israel's parliament, the Knesset, to watch the proceedings.

    Correspondent Walter Rodgers and Reuters contributed to this report.

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