Clinton Urges Netanyahu, Arafat to Finalize Deal As Summit Begins
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Clinton Urges Netanyahu, Arafat to Finalize Deal As Summit Begins

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The last time that President Clinton stood in the Rose Garden to discuss Middle East peace, he mourned the death of slain Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

On Thursday, Clinton again used the historic setting to kick off high-stakes summit diplomacy in an effort to fulfill Rabin’s legacy.

Flanked by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat, Clinton urged the two leaders to “break the logjam and finally take the next essential steps for peace in the Middle East.”

Netanyahu and Arafat then retired to the Wye Plantation in Maryland for a weekend of talks aimed at reaching an agreement on a proposed 13 percent Israeli redeployment from the West Bank that is tied to specific Palestinian steps to combat terrorism. If successful, the open-ended summit would culminate in a signing ceremony at the White House on Monday or Tuesday.

Highlighting the difficult talks ahead, Clinton called for compromise.

“As in any difficult problem, neither side can expect to win 100 percent of every point,” he said.

“Concessions that seem hard now will seem far less important in the light of an accord that moves Israelis and Palestinians closer to lasting peace, closer to a day when the people of Israel can have the safety and security they have been denied for too long, closer to the day when Palestinian people can realize their aspirations to be free and secure and able to shape their own political and economic destiny,” said Clinton, who will intervene in the talks as necessary. U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright will directly oversee the talks.

While both sides expressed optimism that an accord would be reached by the likely end of talks Monday, much remains to be negotiated.

Against this backdrop, both Arafat and Netanyahu jockeyed in an effort to score rhetorical points until moments before they left for the secluded site of the talks.

For Israel the key is that Palestinians “fight terrorism in word and deed,” Netanyahu told reporters in the White House driveway.

“We come with the best intentions and we hope that there will be an accord. We’re asked to give additional territory; we want to ensure that this territory doesn’t become a base and a haven for terrorists to attack us as happened before,” he said.

Arafat, who spoke after Netanyahu had departed from the White House, said, “Peace is the most important platform for security.”

Clinton was to present Arafat with “very specific steps to combat terrorists in the areas of the West Bank under Palestinian control, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Zalman Shoval, told reporters.

“We cannot sign an agreement” without security guarantees in place, Shoval said.

Albright appeared to side with the Israeli team on this point.

“There has to be a verifiable way of knowing there is security in the region,” Albright said in an interview with the Associated Press.

But in a sign that negotiators were getting closer to an agreement, U.S. officials said the summit will be a success even if the Israelis and Palestinians do not wrap up all the issues left over from the 1995 Interim Agreement. Such issues include the opening of a Palestinian airport and seaport, and a safe-passage route that would link the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

For the Clinton administration, the key to the summit’s success is reaching an accord that would move the sides into final-status talks to avert a possible unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood next May.

“If you don’t get on to the permanent-status issues, if you don’t begin to formulate approaches and certain understandings, you are really dealing with a looming disaster,” a senior U.S. official said.

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