Israeli-Palestinian deadlock broken
New Wye deal could be signed Saturday
September 3, 1999
JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Israeli and Palestinian negotiators broke a deadlock over the release of Palestinian prisoners Friday, raising hopes that a new agreement implementing the Wye River land-for-security pact was imminent.
Officials on both sides of the talks told CNN the Palestinians agreed to accept Israel's proposal that 350 prisoners be released, instead of the 400 the Palestinians had sought.
The sole unresolved issue involves a clause prohibiting either side from taking unilateral steps affecting the West Bank and Gaza. That would keep the Israelis from building new settlements on the West Bank, and it would put the Palestinian hopes of a unilateral declaration of statehood on hold until a final agreement is reached.
The compromise reached Friday sets a February 15, 2000, goal for a framework agreement on permanent status.
The final status agreement would be linked with the third and final handover of Israeli land to the Palestinians, as stipulated in the Wye agreement.
Marathon talks continue Friday
U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was meeting with Israeli officials in Jerusalem on Friday in hopes of setting up a signing ceremony on Saturday -- after the Jewish Sabbath ends -- in the Egyptian resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh.
News of the breakthrough came after a marathon day of diplomacy by Albright on Thursday. Albright arrived in Egypt to witness the signing ceremony, which had been scheduled for Thursday evening, but ended up shuttling between Israelis and Palestinians.
After meeting with Palestinians and Egyptian officials in Alexandria, Albright flew to Israel for more than three hours of late-night talks with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak.
Israel toughened its line in the talks, threatening to implement the original Wye accord "according to its original version."
That version was what the Palestinians originally wanted, but both sides have worked out a better deal since then.
The new plan sets a five-month timetable for Israel to withdraw from part of the West Bank, ending January 20. Talks on a final agreement would begin after that.
High hopes of restored trust
The deal would be the first between Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Both sides had hoped to restore the trust damaged during the three years Barak's predecessor, Benjamin Netanyahu, held office.
Though Netanyahu signed the Wye accords in 1998, his government froze their implementation, accusing the Palestinians of violating the deal.
"The political climate because of the failure of the peace process was very much poisoned in the last few years," Egyptian Foreign Minister Amr Moussa said Thursday. "Now it is our task to revive the peace process, and also introduce an element of optimism in the general atmosphere in the region."
Albright urges Israeli-Palestinian deal
Israel's Institutions of Government
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