Barak, Arafat start 'new dawn' on Mideast peace process
Hope -- but no agreement -- emerges from meeting
July 11, 1999
EREZ, Gaza (CNN) -- The leaders of Israel and the Palestinians offered each other their good will and pledged a renewed push for peace Sunday following their first meeting since Ehud Barak was sworn in as Israel's prime minister.
But Barak and Yasser Arafat came to no concrete agreements following their 65-minute meeting at a checkpoint along the Israel-Gaza border.
"Today we embarked on a new road of trust in order to give a new momentum to the peace movement," Barak said at a news conference after the meeting. "The new Israeli government abides by all its commitments."
Campaigning on a promise to rejuvenate the Mideast peace process, Barak was elected prime minister on May 17, easily beating incumbent Benjamin Netanyahu.
"Both sides have suffered enough," Barak said Sunday. "It's about time to find a way to nurture mutual respect and to make peace together."
Arafat echoed the Israeli leader, giving his "full commitment" to work as "full partners to achieve peace."
"It's time to put an end to the cycle of violence and confrontation," Arafat said. "It's time for the new dawn -- the dawn of peace, security and cooperation for all and between all the people of the region."
The two Middle Eastern rivals arrived for the meeting -- the first between Arafat and an Israeli prime minister in seven months -- within minutes of each other. They appeared on friendly terms, stopping for a warm handshake before the meeting began.
But there are some serious differences in their positions: While both sides pledged to honor commitments to last year's U.S.-brokered Wye River accords, Arafat called for further concessions.
"Settlement activities are illegal and destructive to the peace process," he said, referring to construction of Jewish settlements in Palestinian territories that Netanyahu encouraged. "For the sake of peace, I call upon the Israeli government to stop it immediately."
Barak said his government's guidelines called for no new settlements in the area, but he stopped short of calling for established to be dismantled. New settlements approved by the previous government, but not yet begun, will be reviewed.
Barak said he told Arafat he wanted to combine final status talks -- on such issues as Jerusalem, water distribution and Palestinian statehood -- with the implementation of the Wye accords. But the Palestinians oppose that move.
"The most important thing for us is that the agreements signed should be accurately and honestly and fully implemented," Arafat said.
But Arafat said he agreed with Barak on the necessity of both the Wye River implementation and the completion of final status talks.
Arafat and Barak both said they understood there were some tough times coming for the peace process, but both appeared optimistic they could make progress.
Palestinian negotiator Nabil Sha'ath termed the meeting a "very good" one, and said no agreements were expected to have come directly from it.
"It is an initial meeting," Sha'ath said. "It is a beginning, and nothing else."
Barak, who was sworn in as prime minister last week, met with Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak on Friday. He plans to meet with Jordan's King Abdullah on Tuesday and U.S. President Bill Clinton on Thursday.
Sha'ath said that Arafat and Barak would meet again sometime after Barak returns from the United States.
Correspondent Jerrold Kessel contributed to this report, written by CNN Interactive's KC Wildmoon.
Barak, Arafat talks hold out new hope for peace process
Israel's Institutions of Government
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