JERUSALEM, Dec. 18 (JTA) — Washington hopes that next year will be a better one for the peace process. In an effort to give some substance to those hopes, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat agreed Thursday to hold separate meetings next month in Washington with President Clinton. Noting that “1997 was not a good year for the peace process,” U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said this week that she wanted to “make sure 1998 is a good year.” She made the comment after meeting with Arafat in London and discussions earlier in the day in Paris with Netanyahu. The Netanyahu-Albright meeting was their second in 12 days — but it appeared clear that their discussions did not achieve the breakthrough needed to end a nearly 10-month-long stalemate in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Netanyahu, who had little to offer in the way of new proposals, told Albright that he is facing difficulties trying to get hard-liners in his coalition to agree on Israeli-Palestinian borders in a final-status agreement. His Cabinet must sign off on such a plan before agreeing to any further redeployment in the West Bank. During a series of stormy meetings this week, Netanyahu’s Cabinet refused to back any specific proposal, forcing the premier to arrive essentially empty-handed to the Paris meeting. Foreign Minister David Levy refused to attend because he said it was a waste of time in the absence of a detailed redeployment plan. Netanyahu told reporters after the meeting that “specific steps” had been agreed upon, but he refused to elaborate, saying he first wanted to brief his Cabinet. Netanyahu also said he and Albright did not discuss the specifics of a redeployment, adding that he presented Israel’s security concerns based on maps from the 1995 Interim Agreement, which set forth the current West Bank status. For her part, Albright said after the three-hour meeting at the Israeli ambassador’s residence that her meeting with Netanyahu was “pleasant.” She reportedly told Netanyahu to concentrate on the “practical aspects” of a redeployment rather than focus on those areas that Israel would not cede to the Palestinian Authority because of security concerns. From Paris, Albright traveled to London to meet with Arafat. Netanyahu continued to Luxembourg for meetings with European Union leaders. As Israel struggles to come up with the “credible” redeployment that American officials are seeking, Washington is pressing Arafat to provide a detailed plan to root out Hamas militants from the self-rule areas. Arafat said after meeting Albright that the United States had approved his plan for cracking down on terrorists, adding that “we now hope the Israeli side will approve the document.” Israeli hard-liners have refused to back any redeployment until Arafat lives up to his commitment to fight terror. Netanyahu faces pressure not only from conservative members of his coalition, but also from settler leaders, who threatened this week to topple his government if the premier authorizes a redeployment without demanding Palestinian reciprocity.
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