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Arafat, Netanyahu hold secret meeting

Some 'progress' but no deal on Hebron

January 5, 1997
Web posted at: 10:30 a.m. EST (1530 GMT)

EREZ, Gaza Strip (CNN) -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat met secretly in the early hours of Sunday morning in an attempt to break the impasse over the Hebron negotiations.

After the four-hour meeting, sources said -- as they have repeatedly for the past two weeks -- that the two were "very close" to an agreement, but that another meeting would most likely be required to seal the deal.

U.S. special envoy Dennis Ross brought Arafat and Netanyahu together after meeting with the two leaders separately on Saturday.

"We are making progress but we still haven't reached full agreement on all the issues."

-- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

Netanyahu confirmed the meeting during a speech to the Tel Aviv Chamber of Commerce, saying that "certain progress" was made. But he cautioned that the two had "not reached full agreement on all the issues."

Palestinian officials said the Netanyahu-Arafat meeting, which began at 2 a.m., was a positive one.

"Some progress was made," said Palestinian Planning Minister Nabil Shath.

Under an agreement made with the previous government of Israel, the Israelis were to redeploy their troops in Hebron 10 months ago. But the government delayed the redeployment after Islamic militants carried out a series of suicide bombings in Jerusalem. After his election, Netanyahu further postponed the move in order to provide better security for 450 Jewish settlers in downtown Hebron.

Sources said the two sides have already reached an agreement on Israeli troop redeployment in the West Bank city, but were stuck on the issue of a timetable for redeployment elsewhere in the Palestinian self-rule region.

Further redeployment was written into the original agreement without a timetable, and Netanyahu has been unwilling to agree to one in this round of negotiations. Israeli officials blamed the Palestinian insistence on a timetable for the snag in finalizing the Hebron deal.

"Mr. Arafat isn't ready to close the deal on the basis of the agreements that have already been made," said Netanyahu adviser Dore Gold.

Palestinian officials interpret the original agreement as calling for three further West Bank pull-backs by November 1997.


"There won't be an agreement unless there will be a commitment on the three phases," said Arafat adviser Ahmed Tibi.

Despite word from the late-night meeting that a final deal was closer, others in the Israeli government cautioned that support for further concessions was unlikely in the Israeli government.

"If he makes these concessions ... it will be practically impossible to get approval in the Cabinet," said Cabinet Minister Natan Sharansky, a Netanyahu supporter.

But Palestinian analyst Ghassan Khatib said Netanyahu was "giving up to the extremists in his government."

"(He) is retreating from some points that he promised last week when we were on the eve of a breakthrough on Hebron," Khatib said.

The impasse over Hebron has increased tensions in the region during recent weeks. Sunday morning, as news of the Arafat-Netanyahu meeting leaked out, a fire bomb was hurled in front of a Hebron building inhabited by Jews. It caused no injuries or damage.

But outside the Beit El settlement near the West Bank town of Ramallah, Jewish settlers began removing mobile homes they had placed on a hilltop where they hoped to expand their settlement. The settlers said they had reached a deal with the Israeli government swapping removal of the homes for a meeting with Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai.

Correspondent Jerrold Kessel and Reuters contributed to this report.


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