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Arafat, Netanyahu shake hands, begin talks

Arafat & Netanyahu shake hands

September 4, 1996
Web posted at: 11:30 a.m. EDT (1530 GMT)

EREZ, Gaza Strip (CNN) -- Three months into office, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Wednesday was holding his first meeting with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, who Netanyahu has condemned in the past as a terrorist.

As their talks began, the two leaders reached across a table to shake hands.

The meeting was taking place in Erez, on the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip. Talks between the two men could break the deadlock which has gripped the peace process since Netanyahu was elected on a platform calling for slowing the pace of peace efforts, in order to protect Israel's security.

"The relationship between Israel and the Palestinians has deteriorated badly in the three months since Netanyahu's election (so) however distasteful it has become for Netanyahu to meet with Arafat, the Israeli leader has come under increasing pressure from the United States and other countries to meet with Arafat and get on with negotiating peace," CNN Jerusalem Bureau Chief Walter Rodgers reported.

Phone call before meeting

Prior to the meeting, the two leaders spoke by telephone, Israeli officials said. "The chairman of the PLO, Yasser Arafat, telephoned the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, in the afternoon," the Israeli leader's spokesman Shai Bazak said in a statement.

"During the conversation, Arafat apologized to the prime minister for the names Netanyahu was called in the Palestinian press," the statement said.

A columnist in Al-Ayyam newspaper wrote on Tuesday that books written by Netanyahu showed that he was "more Nazi than Hitler."

Reuters contributed to this report.


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