JERUSALEM, June 1 (JTA) President Clinton plans to send his secretary of state to the Middle East to see if she can narrow gaps in Israeli- Palestinian negotiations.
Madeleine Albright’s planned trip comes after Clinton and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak met in Lisbon, but did not announce any breakthroughs in bringing the Israeli and Palestinian positions any closer in talks on a framework for a final peace deal.
Clinton, who said he will meet with Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat in Washington soon, said both sides “have to be prepared to make an intense effort and to do things that they have not done in the past.”
Barak also said that “the door is not closed” to peace with Syria.
Sources close to Barak said the prime minister’s remarks were intended to send two messages one to Damascus, that Israel is still interested in peace even after the unilateral Israeli troop withdrawal from southern Lebanon.
The other message was intended for the Palestinians, warning them that “foot-dragging” could shift Israel’s priorities back to talks with Syria.
The Prime Minister’s Office denied a Palestinian claim that Israel has agreed to hand over to the Palestinians as much as 95 percent of the West Bank as part of a final peace agreement.
Barak’s office said no such agreement existed and that Israel would never agree to such terms.
Representatives in talks on these issues were expected to meet Thursday at an undisclosed location in Israel. Israel suspended the previous round of discussions in Stockholm last month following an eruption of violent Palestinian unrest in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Barak had requested that the meeting with Clinton, originally scheduled for Thursday night in Berlin, be moved forward and held in Lisbon, to allow him to return home in time to attend the state ceremony for Jerusalem Day.
This year’s commemoration of the unification of the capital 33 years ago comes in the midst of heated political argument over a recent government decision to transfer three Arab villages outside Jerusalem to full Palestinian control.
Barak has maintained he is committed to the unity of Jerusalem and that Israel is not interested in annexing the Palestinian population that lives in the areas outside the city’s municipal boundaries.
The right wing contends that the handover would threaten the future of Jerusalem, whose eastern half the Palestinians want as the capital of a future state.