Middle East negotiators will meet in effort to salvage talks

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The Independent Online

Israeli and Palestinian negotiators plan to meet on Sunday to try to resume peace talks amid claims and counter-claims about the offers made at the Camp David summit, which collapsed on Tuesday.

Israeli and Palestinian negotiators plan to meet on Sunday to try to resume peace talks amid claims and counter-claims about the offers made at the Camp David summit, which collapsed on Tuesday.

Both sides have said progress was made during the fortnight of talks, despite their overall failure, and yesterday a senior Israeli negotiator, Gilead Sher, provided some intriguing details.

He told Israel Radio that for the first time since theIsrael-Arab 1967 war, the Palestinians had accepted the concept of Jewish settlement sites on the West Bank. Israeli negotiators had even seen a Palestinian map, showing settlement clusters, he said.

The claim - which scarcely fits with Yasser Arafat's current domestic image as the Arab leader who stood firm against the US-Israeli front - irked the Palestinians, whose negotiator, Saeb Erekat, responded swiftly by pointing out that the negotiations at Camp David were non-binding, as no agreement resulted.

Looming large over the tentative return to the negotiating table is 13 September, the date Mr Arafat has set for declaring statehood. There have been signs that he may be ready to postpone the declaration to allow more time to reach a deal and to avoid acting unilaterally - incurring the wrath of the United States and possibly annexations by Israel.

A hint that Mr Arafat may be readjusting his diary came in an interview with the Saudi Gazette, in which he said that the declaration of statehood "begins to take shape from 13 September".

Mr Sher also said yesterday that the Palestinians had accepted the "Israeli concept of security", which appears to mean a military presence in the Jordan valley. And he said American officials had suggested establishing an office for Mr Arafat in the Muslim quarter of Jerusalem's Old City.

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