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Israeli Prime Minister-elect Ehud Barak said Thursday that Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat is an “important and central partner in the diplomatic process” and that he would like to meet with the Palestinian leader soon. Meanwhile, Palestinian Authority officials said they are “optimistic” about the prospects for peace under the governing coalition that Barak is establishing. The officials stressed that they first expect Barak to implement the Wye agreement signed last October. Reports earlier in the week indicated that President Clinton wanted Barak and Arafat to meet before mid-July, but that Barak preferred to wait a while longer.