Netanyahu and Arafat will meet, says Clinton

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The Independent Online
President Bill Clinton said yesterday that Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, and Yasser Arafat, the chairman of the PLO, will meet tomorrow in Washington to discuss the crisis which has led to deaths of 59 Palestinians and 14 Israelis in the last week.

Mr Clinton said: "The loss of life and the tragedy of the violence in the Middle East this week have been a terrible development for the Israeli and Palestinian people." He added that both Israeli and Palestinian leaders were concerned about the way events had spun out of control.

President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and King Hussein of Jordan have also been invited to the summit, though Egypt had delayed its response because it had wished to hold its own meeting in Cairo. Israel expects the meetings to continue into Wednesday.

But Israeli and Palestinian leaders made clear yesterday how far they are from any agreement two days before they meet in Washington. Mr Netanyahu says the tunnel in Jerusalem, the opening of which has led to present crisis, will never be closed again. He said: "I don't know, would you tear down the Washington Monument or stop the Vietnam memorial if somebody says they have a problem with it." Palestinian leaders insist that the tunnel must be closed. It was reopened yesterday under tight protection from Israeli police and troops.

Emphasising that there is no understanding about what is to be discussed at the summit tomorrow, an Israeli official said: "There is only an understanding that we are going to Washington." Palestinian leaders said they did not want to attend a meeting which did not lead to Israel implementing the Oslo accords, including withdrawal from Hebron.

Rejecting any compromise, David Bar-Ilan, a senior aide of the prime minister, said that Israel might have to reconsider withdrawing from Hebron in the light of last week's violence. He said that Israel might also think about disarming 30,000 Palestinian police, an act which would certainly provoke a war.

Mr Arafat is eager for President Mubarak and King Hussein to attend the summit to put extra pressure on Mr Netanyahu. He is also nervous that the Israeli leader will make conciliatory statements but in practice refuse to implement the peace accords. Five weeks from the presidential election, Mr Clinton is unlikely to put heavy pressure on Mr Netanyahu, but White House officials are reported privately to blame him for provoking the present crisis.

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