Chill in the air as Netanyahu finally meets 'that man' Arafat

Peace talks: No breakthrough on Hebron, but summit may heal Israeli- Palestinian relations

Binyamin Netanyahu and Yasser Arafat shook hands and spoke for an hour yesterday - an event of great symbolic importance - but their first meeting failed to clear away the most pressing obstacles to resumption of the Middle East peace process.

After the encounter, at the Erez Gaza border crossing, the Israeli Prime Minister refused to give a date for the much-postponed withdrawal of most Israeli troops from the West Bank city of Hebron.

However, the mere fact of the meeting suggests Israeli-Palestinian relations, strained to breaking-point since Mr Netanyahu was elected in May, may be healing rapidly.

The Israeli Prime Minister, who once swore that he would never meet "that man" Arafat, had two conversations with the Palestinian President in one day.

In the first, which was conducted by telephone, Mr Arafat apologised to the Israeli leader for insults which had been heaped on him in the Palestinian press.

A columnist in Al-Ayyam newspaper said on Tuesday that Mr Netanyahu was "more Nazi than Hitler".

The summit followed weeks of diplomacy by both sides, assisted by the Norwegian government.

Mr Netanyahu had said that he would meet Mr Arafat only when he had something firm to announce or to discuss an urgent security problem.

But yesterday's meeting involved neither. Afterwards, at a joint press conference, Mr Netanyahu said that he would respect accords signed by the previous, Labour, government and that he was ready to negotiate a final peace agreement.

He hoped, he said, to "improve the prosperity and economic conditions of the Palestinian population".

Mr Arafat said the meeting would lead to a full-scale resumption of the peace process. "There is no doubt that the path was cleared for us to negotiate on all levels and in all aspects."

There was no public sign of warmth between the two men, who failed to look at each other. None the less, Israeli television repeatedly showed film of their earlier four-second handshake, the first formal recognition of Mr Arafat as a partner in peace by a Prime Minister from the Likud party.

The two sides are said to be close to agreeing on a package of measures including redeployment in Hebron.

Mr Netanyahu refused to be drawn on this subject. He said that this and other issues would be discussed in an Israeli-Palestinian steering committee. Questioned on the same subject, Mr Arafat said: "I have nothing to add, but to state that we will continue to negotiate and to co-ordinate in all efforts, by all means."

The handover of Hebron to Palestinian civil rule and removal of Israeli troops from most of the city is the most contentious immediate issue between the two sides.

Mr Netanyahu's governing coalition of right-wing and religious parties has said that it wants to renegotiate the terms which Labour agreed; Palestinian officials said again and again that they were willing only to discuss implementation of the existing deal.

Hardline members of the Israeli governing coalition said that the meeting betrayed Likud policy, but Mr Netanyahu insisted that it was in line with his campaign pledges to replace the previous Palestinian negotiations with a tougher brand of "peace with security". Labour politicians and many Israeli civil servants will nevertheless take yesterday's summit as proof of what they had long predicted: that Mr Netanyahu would have to, in the short term, return to something like the Oslo peace process, because there was no other viable course.

Israeli officials said Mr Netanyahu had come to accept that Israel's security depends on co-operation with the Palestinian Authority (and that Mr Arafat has done a good - maybe too draconian - security job). Some form of Hebron deal, linked to wider access to Israel for Palestinian workers, may be possible in the near future.

The real problems will come in the medium or longer term, when Mr Netanyahu faces the core issues still undecided, such as the final status of the Palestinian authority, the future of Jerusalem and the final division of the West Bank between Palestinian areas and Israeli settlements.

News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
filmDirector said film would 'never have been financed' with ethnic minority actors in key roles
News
people
Sport
footballArsenal 2 Borussia Dortmund 0: And they can still top the group
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
An unseen image of Kurt Cobain at home featured in the film 'Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck'
film
News
Andy Murray with his girlfriend of nine years, Kim Sears who he has got engaged to
peopleWimbledon champion announces engagement to girlfriend Kim Sears
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp
tv
Arts and Entertainment
George Mpanga has been shortlisted for the Critics’ Choice prize
music
News
Albert Camus (left) and Jean-Paul Sartre fell out in 1952 and did not speak again before Camus’s death
people
Arts and Entertainment
Roisin, James and Sanjay in the boardroom
tvReview: This week's failing project manager had to go
News
Ed Miliband visiting the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem. The Labour leader has spoken more openly of his heritage recently
newsAttacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But are the barbs more sinister?
Arts and Entertainment
'Felfie' (2014) by Alison Jackson
photographyNew exhibition shows how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
News
i100
Extras
indybest
Life and Style
Fright night: the board game dates back to at least 1890
life
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Argyll Scott International: Financial Accounting Manager

£300 - £400 per day: Argyll Scott International: I am currently recruiting on ...

Recruitment Genius: Field Based Sales Surveyor - OTE £40,000

£16000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Field Based Sales Surveyor is...

Ampersand Consulting LLP: UI Designer/ User Interface Designer (UI, User Flow, Design)

£6000 - £60000 per annum + Bonus and Benefits: Ampersand Consulting LLP: UI De...

Investigo: International Finance Analyst

£270 - £300 per annum: Investigo: An exciting opportunity to join an internati...

Day In a Page

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
The King's School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology

Staying connected: The King's School

The school in Cambridgeshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology. Richard Garner discovers how teachers and pupils stay connected
Christmas 2014: 23 best women's perfumes

Festively fragrant: the best women's perfumes

Give a loved one a luxe fragrance this year or treat yourself to a sensual pick-me-up
Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition

Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund

The Ox celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition
Billy Joe Saunders vs Chris Eubank Jnr: When two worlds collide

When two worlds collide

Traveller Billy Joe Saunders did not have a pampered public-school upbringing - unlike Saturday’s opponent Chris Eubank Jnr
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?