Israel the summit victor Palestine the summit loser

Middle East: Threat of renewed Palestinian violence as leaders return home
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The Independent Online
For once Israelis and Palestinians are agreed. Israel believes that from its point of view the Washington summit was a success and Palestinians say that for them it was not. "We got nothing," said Ghassan Khatib, a Palestinian commentator. "The summit was a complete failure."

In two days of talks with President Bill Clinton and Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister gave no date for the partial withdrawal of Israeli troops from Hebron and refused to close the tunnel under the old city of Jerusalem which sparked off the fighting in which 15 Israelis and 59 Palestinians died.

From next Sunday there are to be continuous negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians over redeployment in Hebron and security issues. President Clinton is to lend the services of his Middle-East co-ordinator, Dennis Ross, for the talks at the Erez checkpoint near Gaza.

The Palestinians seem perilously close to renegotiating the agreement on Hebron, signed a year ago, which is exactly what they did not want to do. The only small gain for the Palestinians is a general target date for redeployment in Hebron which was reportedly given by Mr Netanyahu to Mr Clinton.

Mr Khatib believes Mr Arafat would have been in a stronger position if he had refused to go the summit "unless he received concrete assurances that he would get something". He would not have been alone in refusing to go because President Mubarak, the Americans' principal Arab ally in the Middle East, had turned down an invitation to Washington because Israel was offering nothing.

There was little visible reaction to the summit on the West Bank or in Gaza. The Israeli army has sealed off all towns and villages from each other.

At Halhoul, near Hebron, which has been placed under curfew, a 14-year- old boy was shot dead and two other teenagers were wounded by Israeli soldiers when they threw stones at a military vehicle.

Although the Palestinians got nothing in Washington, their overall position is stronger than before the demonstrations and killings last week. They are more united, the credibility of the Palestinian Authority has increased and they have won international support. But critics of Mr Arafat say Palestinians are getting fed up with him attending international summits which do them no good. Khalid Amayreh, a journalist in Hebron, said: "We are sick of these futile symbols."

The summit showed that President Clinton is prepared to protect Mr Arafat personally, but not to pressure Israel into making concessions. A month ago the White House had reportedly told Mr Netanyahu that he would not meet the President unless he first met Mr Arafat. Professor Israel Shahak, a radical critic of Mr Arafat, said: "Arafat is becoming like many Third World leaders, an instrument through which the international community maintains stability."

There is little likelihood, at least in the immediate future, that Mr Arafat will face serious criticism from the 2.3 million Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza, whatever the views of the intelligentsia. Even in the streets of Hebron, people said they had expected nothing from Washington and they had wanted Mr Arafat to go there to present their case. The Palestinian media, which are all officially controlled or influenced, lauded Mr Arafat's achievement at the summit.

Any fighting in the immediate future is most likely to be between the Israeli army and the 40,000-strong Palestinian police, many of whom, in fact, are combat troops. Palestinians fear that the army may be looking for an excuse to seek revenge for its losses last week, particularly in the fighting around Joseph's Tomb in Nablus. Mr Arafat has stopped demonstrations at Israeli checkpoints, although some members of his own organisation, Fatah, disagree with this.

The Palestinians' disappointment with the summit was mirrored across the Arab world. In Egypt, Amr Moussa, the Foreign Minister, said: "It is clear that the Israelis did not come to Washington to make progress. The proposals submitted by the Israeli delegation constitute a total retreat from the framework of peace."

t Yigal Amir, his brother Hagai and Dror Adani, a friend in the army, were sentenced to additional jail terms in Tel Aviv for their plots to kill Yitzhak Rabin, the prime minister whom they finally assassinated at the end of last year. The judge, Amnon Strashnov, described them as the "sons of evil".

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