Israel stakes all on summit deal with Arafat

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The Independent Online
A summit between Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, and Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader, was said by a senior Israeli official to be imminent last night as Israeli construction workers prepared to start building an exclusively Jewish settlement at Har Homa in Jerusalem.

If last-minute talks take place, they will revolve around devising a "package deal" under which long-standing Palestinian demands would be met in return for Mr Arafat muting his protests over Har Homa. These demands include the opening of an airport and the construction of a port at Gaza, safe passage between Gaza and the West Bank, release of prisoners and an Israeli pledge on the size of next stage of its withdrawal on the West Bank.

Some 100 Israeli infantry are waiting to quell any demonstrations. Israel has reinforced its troops encircling Gaza, in the West Bank and on the border between the West Bank and Israel.

Khalil Shikaki, a leading Palestinian political scientist, said yesterday that his most recent polling showed that "Palestinians on the street are not thrilled by the idea of a confrontation. It comes too quickly after the last one."

Dr Shikaki said the US had made a big mistake in January at the end of the Hebron negotiations by leaving three critical issues open: Jerusalem, Israeli settlements and the size of Israeli redeployment from the West Bank. He said the US negotiators left the area "leaving behind these time bombs, above all the freedom for Israel to decide unilaterally how far its troops will withdraw on the West Bank".