U.S. fights to save Mideast summit Attack in Israel sparks flare-up at Wye talks, toughens negotiations

October 20, 1998|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,SUN STAFF

QUEENSTOWN -- President Clinton, struggling to keep the U.S.-sponsored Middle East peace summit from collapsing after a grenade attack in Israel, met for hours with Israeli and Palestinian leaders yesterday and canceled a political fund-raising trip so he could return today.

In his fourth long day of intense personal mediation, Clinton brought together Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat for the first time since Friday and then joined them for dinner.

State Department spokesman James P. Rubin described the more than two hours of pre-dinner negotiations as "workmanlike -- It's not a waste of time." But he said yesterday's grenade attack had made the summit more difficult.

Shortly after the attack, Israeli officials said they would discuss only one topic -- security -- until the Palestinians agree to a detailed plan to combat terrorism. But aides to Netanyahu and Arafat later resumed lower-level committee meetings on issues of prime importance to the Palestinians, including economic cooperation and further Israeli troop withdrawals from the West Bank.

U.S. officials have tried to unite the Israelis and Palestinians behind a common theme of not allowing this latest outbreak of terrorism to wreck the talks at Wye Plantation.

The summit was extended after the sides proved unable to reach agreement by the Sunday deadline. A U.S. official left open the possibility that the Clinton administration would now be willing to settle for a partial deal.

"Only the parties themselves can bridge their differences and put their people on a more hopeful course," Clinton said before leaving the White House. "The issues are difficult. The distrust is deep. The going has been tough."

The president was scheduled to begin a two-day fund-raising trip to California today, but canceled his travel plans late yesterday to pursue the peace talks.

U.S. officials were giving strong consideration to asking Jordan's King Hussein, who is resting at his home in Potomac during a break from cancer treatment, to attend the talks and lend his moral authority.

A U.S.-drafted statement approved by Netanyahu and Arafat helped get the summit back on track after the terrorist attack in Israel. It said: "We agree not to give in to the efforts of extremists to destroy the hope for peace and security for both our peoples." The two agreed to "intensify our efforts to achieve an agreement that will lead to a secure and lasting peace."

Minutes earlier, two senior Israeli officials made an announcement that belied that spirit of cooperation. Breaking a U.S.-imposed blackout on public statements by anyone other than American spokesmen, Israel's U.N. ambassador, Dore Gold, and David Bar-Ilan, an adviser to the prime minister, said Israel would suspend talks set for yesterday on economic cooperation and a Gaza airport.

Israelis would focus all their negotiating energies on getting an agreement on security, they said.

"The focus of our efforts must be on security. Peace without security won't work," Gold said outside the press center at Chesapeake College. Behind him, members of the strict Lubavitcher sect held up a banner that declared in Hebrew: "Giving up territory is dangerous to the Jewish nation."

'War on terrorism'

Bar-Ilan said yesterday's attack was the 10th recent terrorist assault against Israelis. He demanded a "war on terrorism" and Palestinian acceptance of an anti-terrorism plan. Such a plan has been developed in large measure by the Central Intelligence Agency.

Even before the attack, he said, "the Palestinians were not really coming forward with any kind of collaboration on the agreement."

Bar-Ilan said many issues were unresolved and held out the possibility that the Israeli delegation would remain for several days.

"We hope we can still achieve an agreement even at this point -- if not a complete agreement at least a partial agreement."

Asked about the Israeli stance, State Department spokesman Rubin played down any disruption and emphasized the sides' pledge to achieve an agreement.

"I don't know what exactly the Israelis have been saying to you. What I can tell you is that this was something that the two sides agreed to."

An official in the Palestinians' Washington office, Khalil Foutah, said of the Israeli move: "This is their way of breaking the talks because they know the Palestinians are not going to talk about security only."

The sides have reached a basic agreement on a U.S. plan for a 13 percent Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank, with 3 percent to be kept undeveloped as a nature preserve. The Palestinians want an Israeli commitment on a subsequent withdrawal, as spelled out in previous agreements.

The airport has been the subject of long negotiations, and the Palestinians view it as a building block of a future state.

Earlier, Arafat telephoned Netanyahu to condemn the grenade attack, which he called "regrettable," and to promise that the Palestinian authority would investigate.

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