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King Hussein’s intervention may bring Hebron deal closer

JERUSALEM, Jan. 12 (JTA) — There were indications this week that Israel and the Palestinian Authority might reach an eleventh-hour agreement for turning over most of Hebron to Palestinian self-rule. On Sunday, Jordan’s King Hussein joined efforts to break the impasse in the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. After meeting with Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat in the Gaza Strip, Hussein flew to Israel to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Hussein brought with him to Israel a compromise proposal regarding further Israeli redeployments in rural areas of the West Bank, the issue that has held up an agreement. Palestinian sources said that during the Hussein-Arafat talks the Palestinians agreed to an American proposal that the further redeployments be concluded in 1998. The sources said that if Israel also agreed to the timetable, a Hebron accord could be initialed Monday. The sources said the agreement would also include a letter of commitment from the Palestinians to fight terror and disarm the fundamentalist Hamas and Islamic Jihad groups. Jordanian Information Minister Marwan Muashar described the Hussein-Arafat meeting as “very successful.” He added that during the meeting in Gaza, Hussein and Arafat spoke by phone with U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Netanyahu. After it was announced that Hussein was traveling to Tel Aviv to meet with Netanyahu, an American official said U.S. Special Middle East Coordinator Dennis Ross had canceled earlier plans to leave the region Sunday night. After weekend talks in Cairo, Ross said he had done his best to help the sides conclude an agreement. He and other officials conceded that agreement had been reached on the redeployment of Israeli troops from most of Hebron, but that differences still remained on a timetable for further Israeli redeployments in rural parts of the West Bank. Ross had planned to return to Washington after his talks Saturday with Mubarak produced no breakthrough. Ross did not meet with Arafat, who was also in Cairo at the time. A meeting Ross held later Saturday with Netanyahu also failed to produce an agreement. On Saturday night, the Palestinian Authority issued a statement saying that the “peace talks have hit a deadlock.” Under the terms of the 1995 Interim Agreement, Israel was to begin the first of the three redeployments within six months after the inauguration of the Palestinian legislative council last March. Netanyahu said he would agree to a first pullback within weeks of the implementation of the Hebron agreement. He added that the final redeployment would be completed by September 1999. Last week, Ross proposed a compromise date of mid-1998, but Arafat rejected the proposal. Palestinian Authority officials said they had expected the United States to do more to press Israel into implementing the Interim Agreement. The Jordanian monarch, accompanied by several government ministers, flew by helicopter to Gaza. The two helicopters landed near Arafat’s offices, after Israel refused permission for them touch down at the new Palestinian Authority airport near Rafah in southern Gaza. Israel has not yet agreed to the opening of the airport. Sunday’s visit marked the second time Hussein traveled to the autonomous areas to meet with Arafat. In October, he and the Palestinian leader met in the West Bank town of Jericho. His meeting with Netanyahu marked the first time Hussein traveled to Israel in the context of the peace negotiations, and came barely three weeks after Foreign Minister David Levy encountered a cold welcome on his first official visit to Amman. In Hebron, meanwhile, two firebombs were thrown at an Israeli car traveling on the road between the settlement of Kiryat Arba and the Tomb of the Patriarchs. No one was injured and there was no damage. Also Sunday, Jewish settlers prepared to inaugurate a new apartment building, Beit Fink, near the Avraham Aveinu complex in Hebron’s Jewish quarter. Representatives of Hebron’s Jewish community said the building was purchased during the term of the previous Labor government.