Peace in Middle East is one step nearer

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The Independent Online

The slow push towards peace in the Middle East inched forward yesterday with the announcement that Israel and the Palestinians will begin negotiations on a permanent status treaty on 7 November.

The slow push towards peace in the Middle East inched forward yesterday with the announcement that Israel and the Palestinians will begin negotiations on a permanent status treaty on 7 November.

The date was agreed in Jerusalem at the first meeting between the two chief negotiators, Yasser Abed Rabbo, the Palestinian information minister, and Oded Eran, whose appointment, to much Palestinian annoyance, was only announced this week.

Their meeting came amid preparations for next week's gathering in Oslo, where Ehud Barak, the Israeli Prime Minister, will meet the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. President Bill Clinton will arrive there on Monday, and will hold talks with both sides, together and separately.

The Americans have made every effort to play down the possibility of a breakthrough in the Norwegian capital - scene of the secret talks that gave birth to the 1993 peace accord. "It is just another step along the way," said Mr Clinton, adding that he "wouldn't want to raise expectations excessively about what the results of the meeting will be".

The two sides are committed to developing a framework agreement by February 2000, before trying to reach a final accord by September but there are plenty of grievances, procedural issues and stumbling blocks. The Israelis want less US involvement, the Palestinians, more. The latter are angry about continued Israeli settlement building in the occupied territories. And then there are the big issues, such as rights of return for refugees, border security, economic relations and - above all - the status of the holy city of Jerusalem.

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