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Arafat, Netanyahu to meet on Hebron deal

January 14, 1997
Web posted at: 11:20 a.m. EST (1620 GMT)

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat planned to meet at midnight Tuesday for what negotiators hope will result in a final agreement on Israeli troop redeployment.


U.S. Special Envoy Dennis Ross said the meeting would be held at the Erez Junction on the border between Israel and the Gaza strip.

"We have been working and there will be a meeting tonight between the prime minister and the chairman at Erez," Ross told Israel Radio. Negotiators were to begin meeting about six hours before the two leaders get together.

Netanyahu, speaking to reporters in Jerusalem, said that there was a chance the deal could be completed at the meeting, "but it is not guaranteed."

Arafat spokesman Nabil Abourdeineh confirmed the meeting. Israeli sources said there is nothing left to do in the negotiations but to work out the final details.


"We would not take the risk of another meeting at this point if we were not sure that we could finalize this agreement," said an Israeli government source.

Another Israeli source, however, said that the meeting could finalize the agreement, but predicted that a signing would not take place at that time.

A major stumbling block to the agreement was removed earlier when Arafat agreed to allow Israel to complete redeployment of troops in rural areas of the West Bank by August 1998, instead of the September 1997 date stipulated by the agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians.

The two sides were also reportedly haggling over the wording of so-called "notes for the record" to be attached to the agreement by the United States. The notes would list commitments made by the two sides during the talks, including issues to be discussed at future negotiations.


The new agreement's main thrust is the redeployment of Israeli troops in Hebron, the last city still under Israeli control in the West Bank. Under the new agreement, Israel will withdraw its troops from 80 percent of the city and hand the city over to Palestinian self-rule. The remaining troops will serve primarily as protective forces for the approximately 450 Jewish settlers who live in the heart of the town.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who has advised Arafat during the course of the negotiations, said Tuesday that he expected the troop redeployment to begin by the end of February.

Netanyahu has come under increasing criticism for negotiating with the Palestinians. Seven of 18 ministers in the prime minister's cabinet have announced they will vote against the new agreement, and eight have announced they are in favor of it.

Netanyahu is not required to win the cabinet's approval for the deal to go through, but it would be difficult to proceed if the cabinet voted against it.

The prime minister's critics -- both in Israel and among the West Bank settlers -- charge that he is giving back much of the territory Israel won in the 1967 war with Jordan. Netanyahu denies those claims.

"We are not going back to the '67 boundaries," he said. "We are not building a Palestinian state."

Correspondent Jerrold Kessel and Reuters contributed to this report.


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