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Clinton addresses open letters to Israelis, Palestinians


Israel postpones decision on peace talks

In this story:

Killing delays response on talks

Clinton: Time for 'courageous leadership'

At odds over proposals


JERUSALEM (CNN) -- As Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts sputtered again, U.S. President Bill Clinton addressed open letters to Israeli and Palestinian citizens, urging them not to "draw the wrong lessons" from the recent round of violence.

"The violence does not demonstrate that the quest for peace has gone too far -- but that it has not gone far enough. And it points not to the failure of negotiations -- but to the futility of violence and force," Clinton wrote, one day before leaving office.

Watch Arafat's speech (January 19)

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CNN's Mike Hanna reports on the Israeli youth's death (January 19)

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graphic Recent acts of violence in the Middle East:
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Key issues: U.S., Israeli and Palestinian views
graphic In-Depth: Israel Election 2001


According to Israeli radio, Israel on Friday put off consideration of a Palestinian proposal for marathon peace talks in Egypt, so they would not coincide with the funeral of an Israeli youth slain on the West Bank.

Killing delays response on talks

Earlier this week, Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat proposed 10 days of intense talks in an effort to bridge the gaps that have separated Israelis and Palestinians for more than five decades. If the Israelis accept, the talks could begin as early as Sunday at the Egyptian resort of Taba.

But Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak postponed a planned meeting of his inner cabinet to consider Arafat's offer, until after the funeral of 16-year-old Ophir Rakhum, found shot to death near Ramallah on Thursday several days after he left home in Ashkelon to visit a Palestinian woman he met on the Internet.

Israeli authorities said the boy was killed by Palestinian gunmen. But Palestinian police said they believed the killing had criminal and not political motives.

Israel's cabinet plans to meet and make a decision on Saturday evening.

"It is a very serious and cruel murder of a young boy," Barak said. "We view this incident in a very severe manner and we will act in order to punish those who killed him."

Rakhum's killing added more fuel to an extremely tense and contentious situation. Four months of bitter violence between Israelis and Palestinians have left nearly 400 people dead.

The Palestine Red Crescent Society says that 341 of the dead have been Palestinians, and the Israel Defense Forces report that 45 of the dead were Israeli Jews and 13 more Israeli Arabs.

Peace talks have been stalled since July, when the negotiations crumbled during a U.S.-sponsored summit at Camp David, Maryland. Two months later, on September 28, the current round of violence began, further splitting the two sides.

President Clinton, who had hoped to end his eight years in office with a Mideast peace deal, pushed hard for an agreement. But the two sides could not reach an agreement in time.

Clinton: Time for 'courageous leadership'

In his letter, Clinton told the Palestinians that, "now, more than ever, is the time for courageous leadership." Palestinians must recognize, he wrote, that "courage is not only...measured in struggle. It is measured in the ability to seize historic opportunities."

He also advised Palestinians to avoid outside pressures to halt negotiations.

"There will always be those sitting comfortably on the outside urging you to hold out for the impossible more. But they are not the one whose refugees will continue to languish in crowded camps. You are. They are not the one whose children will grow up in poverty. You are. They are not the ones who will pay the price of missing a historic opportunity."

Turning toward Israel, Clinton pledged continued strong U.S. military and diplomatic support, including offering Israel first option at purchasing the new U.S. advanced fighter jet, the F-22.

"I have expanded our special strategic relationship and helped protect and enhance your security," Clinton wrote. "As part of that continuing effort, I am recommending that when our most advanced fighter aircraft, the F-22, becomes available for sale, Israel, if it so chooses, will be among the first, if not the first, foreign customer."

Clinton letter comes as Barak's time may be running out. Israel will vote for a new prime minister on February 6, and Barak's challenger, hard-line Likud party leader Ariel Sharon, holds a substantial lead in polls.

Both Palestinians and Israelis conditionally accepted proposals that Clinton put forth last month to end the 52-year dispute as a basis for discussion. But both sides expressed reservations and asked for more information.

At odds over proposals

Clinton's proposals would have granted the Palestinians control over nearly all of the West Bank and Gaza, including an east Jerusalem shrine that has sparked considerable bitterness between the two adversaries.

Arafat has proposed 10 days of intense talks in an effort to find a peaceful resolution to the conflict  

In return, the Palestinians were to give up their demand that hundreds of thousands of refugees and their descendants be allowed to return to homes in Israel that they left when Israel became independent in 1948.

But Barak has said he would sign no agreement that gave up Israeli sovereignty over the site Israelis know as the Temple Mount, where the ancient Temple of Solomon was once located. The site is known to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif -- the Noble Sanctuary -- and is the location of a pair of sacred mosques, Dome of the Rock and Al Aqsa.

The Palestinians have also said that their right of return to Israel is non-negotiable, a demand the Israelis say they will never agree to.

CNN Jerusalem Bureau Chief Mike Hanna contributed to this story.

New U.S. administration will 'wait and see' on Mideast
January 18, 2001
Settlers' attacks the backdrop to Israeli, Palestinian meeting
January 16, 2001
Mideast peace talks resume
January 16, 2001
Killing prompts Israel to cancel meeting
January 15, 2001
Hopes fade for Mideast agreement before Clinton leaves White House
January 14, 2001
Israeli, Palestinian negotiators meet in Gaza
January 13, 2001
Fierce clashes erupt as Israeli-Palestinian talks renew
January 12, 2001

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