- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 3, 2001

President Clinton and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat held two rounds of talks at the White House yesterday in an effort to stop the growing Middle East violence, but no breakthrough was announced on convening a peace summit with Israel before Mr. Clinton leaves office.

Mr. Arafat, however, agreed to intensify efforts to reduce violence between Palestinians and Israelis, White House spokesman Jake Siewart told reporters. Specifically, he said he would work to reduce acts of violence, particularly shootings, arrest those responsible and resume security cooperation "to combat terrorism," the spokesman said.

The meetings had been "productive" and "useful," the spokesman said, adding that Mr. Clinton provided Mr. Arafat with clarifications of the proposals he presented Dec. 23 to advance the deadlocked peace process.

Mr. Siewart said Mr. Clinton answered questions from Mr. Arafat about the parameters of the deal involving the return of Palestinian refugees and control over the Jerusalem holy site known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Arabs as al-Haram al-Sharif.

Mr. Clinton planned to talk to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak by phone today and possibly will talk by phone to Mr. Arafat, Mr. Siewert said.

Mr. Clinton and Mr. Arafat met for two hours yesterday afternoon in the Oval Office, and again from about 9:30 p.m. to 10:45 p.m. at the president's residence. Mr. Arafat did not speak to reporters after either session.

The second round of talks included Mr. Clinton's top security advisers Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, National Security Adviser Samuel R. Berger and CIA Director George J. Tenet.

In Israel yesterday, Mr. Barak expressed skepticism over the possibility of a peace pact.

"The risk of war is greater than it has been during the last three years," Mr. Barak told public television.

In a statement issued by his office, Mr. Barak said "it will be impossible to sign an agreement within the next few weeks," adding that Israel's army will "continue concentrating on vigorous counterterrorist activity in the coming weeks."

"Prime Minister Barak believes that Chairman Arafat intends to work for the internationalization of the conflict beyond the Clinton administration's term in office by continuing to encourage terrorism."

Continuing violence left eight Palestinians and four Israelis wounded yesterday in a series of violent confrontations in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, Palestinian and Israeli officials said.

Early yesterday, a Palestinian farm worker was killed by Israeli soldiers, and two Israeli soldiers were wounded by bomb explosions in the Gaza Strip. A day earlier, a car bomb wounded 20 persons north of Tel Aviv.

An Arafat adviser said in an editorial that Mr. Clinton would fail to win a legacy by forcing Arab agreement to his proposals.

U.S. pressures "reflect a Democratic president's ambition to reach an agreement that will become part of his legacy, a legacy that is now threatened by a Republican president-elect and by the first signs of an [economic] slowdown," said Mr. Arafat's adviser and chief editor of the Palestinian daily Al-Ayyam, Akram Haniyya, who participated in the failed Camp David negotiations.

President-elect George W. Bush yesterday strongly supported Mr. Clinton's efforts to find a Middle East peace acceptable to both sides.

"I'm appreciative of the fact that the president is working endlessly to try to bring the parties together to achieve a lasting peace," said Mr. Bush.

"I appreciate his efforts. He's a man, obviously, who's going to work up to the last minute of the last day of his administration, which is what the American people expect, and so do I.

"We have one president, and our nation will speak with one voice, and the voice with which we will speak is the voice of President Clinton. And, as I say, he's giving it the very best shot he can, and I certainly hope it works."

In a phone conversation Monday night with Mr. Clinton, Mr. Barak "made it clear that he has deep doubts over the seriousness of Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat's intention to reach an agreement that takes Israel's vital interests into account," said the Israeli statement.

It also said Mr. Barak was ordering the Israeli army to prepare for "unilateral separation" in the event all peace talks fail.

Israel has already begun rebuilding a border fence along the Green Line from Tulkarem north and south to block any movements by Palestinians into Israel. Israel removed the fence after it seized the West Bank in 1967.

Mr. Barak did not rule out attending future peace talks but said he would do so only if there was "a halt to the violence and the resumption of meaningful cooperation in the war against terrorism."

The Palestinian editorial, published last week, criticized two key aspects of the plan Mr. Clinton has offered as a guideline to be agreed upon before any summit can be convened.

"These ideas feed the fire and threaten to encourage religious wars," said the editorial.

The U.S. proposals would make Palestinians relinquish their right of return to Israel for tens of thousands of refugees who fled their homes in the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.

In return, Palestinians would get sovereignty over parts of a Jerusalem site revered by Muslims as el-Haram al-Sharif and by Jews as the Temple Mount.

The editorial, apparently reflecting official Palestinian Authority views and posted on the PA Web site, said "Clinton's ideas contradict the resolutions of international legitimacy" by "legitimating the Israeli settlements."

The Palestinian editorial also said Mr. Clinton's refugee plan "negates the wording of Resolution 194 regarding their return to their homes. They propose instead the options of resettlement of refugees, return to the Palestinian state, immigration to other countries, or compensation."

White House spokesman Jake Siewert said yesterday that Israel is ready to resume talks and the aim of yesterday's meeting was to get Mr. Arafat to agree as well.

Both sides however have reservations about the agenda proposed by Mr. Clinton.

Robert Satloff of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy said the Clinton agenda raises serious security concerns for Israel because it does not define the size and weaponry of a future "non-militarized" Palestinian army.

The U.S. proposals also call for an international force to monitor the separation of the two sides and to oversee Jerusalem's holy places effectively ending the key U.S. role as the only trusted mediating partner.

"The president seems to be proposing on the eve of his departure from office a politically delicate, vaguely defined international military presence precisely the kind of mission that President-elect George W. Bush has decried as generally inappropriate for the United States," said Mr. Satloff.

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