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Clock running down for Clinton's hopes for Mideast deal

Clinton
 

Israeli official: 'We don't believe a deal is doable' before January 20


In this story:

Israel suggests new summit

Proposals cover key points

Palestinian: Deal serves only Barak

RELATED STORIES, SITES icon



JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Israeli peace envoy Gilead Sher headed home Saturday as U.S. President Bill Clinton pondered the next step in the contentious Mideast peace process.

Meanwhile, Palestinians and Israelis alike expressed doubt that the parties could reach an agreement to end 52 years of conflict before Clinton leaves office in two weeks.

 VIDEO
CNN's Mike Hanna reports on why many Mideast residents do not support the peace process (January 5)

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Gilead Sher comments on his meeting with U.S. President Bill Clinton (January 5)

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Sher

Sher highlights points of discussion in a prior meeting with Clinton and his Mideast peace team (January 5)

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Ashrawi Hanan Ashrawi, Palestinian Cabinet member, speaks Thursday about the peace process (January 4)

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 RESOURCES
Israeli notes from December 23 meeting with Clinton
 
  ALSO
 
  RESOURCES
graphic In-Depth: Israel Election 2001

 

An Israeli official told CNN, "We don't believe a deal is doable in the next two weeks," but said Sher told U.S. mediators that, as far as the Israeli government is concerned, "January 20 is an important day."

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat predicted no peace deal would be reached before Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak faces re-election.

"I don't expect a deal will be reached before the Israeli elections on February 6, even after Clinton leaves office, because of the sensitivities of the issue and because the gaps between us are too wide," Erakat said.

Negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis stalled over several key issues. Chief among those issues were sovereignty over an east Jerusalem site sacred to both Jews and Muslims and the Palestinian demand for a right of return for Palestinian families -- and their descendants -- who were forced to leave what is now Israel when the Jewish state was founded in 1948.

Clinton had hoped for a peace deal to cap his eight-year term in office, but the likelihood seems remote in the days leading up to the inauguration of President-elect George W. Bush.

Israel suggests new summit

Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat, traveling in Oman on Saturday to drum up more Arab support for the Palestinian positions, said he was unconcerned with the January 20 date.

"Obviously we are working hard to reach an agreement with President Clinton before he leaves," Arafat said. "Obviously at the same time we will maintain the process with President Bush."

Sher, who brought to Washington Israel's response to Clinton's latest proposals outlining a framework for talks, said he doubted an accord was imminent but added he believes "that we can achieve something."

An Israeli official told CNN that Sher suggested Clinton convene a "Sharm al-Sheik-like" summit, an allusion to Israeli-Palestinian negotiating sessions held last year at an Egyptian Red Sea resort in the Sinai.

The Israeli said the goal would be to produce a "summation of what's been achieved" along with a "road map as to how to go forward" -- with the blessing of the secretary-general of the United Nations and the European Union.

U.S. National Security spokesman P.J. Crowley said Clinton would make a decision on the next steps for the process "within 48 to 72 hours."

"We are determined to try to take them as close as we can, if not to an agreement," Crowley said. "We don't know how far we will get."

CIA Director George Tenet is scheduled on Sunday to participate in a high-level security meeting with senior Israeli and Palestinian officials in Cairo, Egypt.

Proposals cover key points

Clinton's proposals, meant as a basis for further negotiation, call for Palestinian sovereignty over the holy place known to Arabs as Haram al-Sharif and to Jews as the Temple Mount. The hill is the location of a pair of sacred mosques, Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa, and the Western Wall, the only remaining piece of the ancient Jewish Temple of King Solomon.

In return, the proposals call for the Palestinians to drop their insistence on the right of Palestinian refugees to return to homes in Israel that they fled or were forced to leave in 1948.

Barak has said that Israel would accept the proposals, provided the Palestinians did as well. Earlier this week, Arafat gave Clinton a conditional acceptance of the proposals, prompting the new Israeli response.

Palestinian: Deal serves only Barak

But Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo accused the Clinton administration of pushing the peace deal "to win a bonus."

"This is an attempt to get concessions from us on our rights over Jerusalem and the mosque compound, on refugees' right of return and on our sovereignty over the territories," Rabbo said.

The deal, he added, "serves only the electoral needs of Ehud Barak." The Israeli prime minister is reported to be trailing hard-line opposition Likud leader Ariel Sharon in polls for the February 6 election.

Israeli officials said they expect a speech Clinton is scheduled to make Sunday evening at the Israeli Policy Forum in New York will provide a good indicator of what he believes the best next step should be.

CNN Correspondents Andrea Koppel, Eileen O'Connor and Matthew Chance contributed to this report.



RELATED STORIES:
Israeli negotiator: 'We are waiting for the president now'
January 5, 2001
Israeli envoy to present written reaction to peace proposal
January 4, 2001
Arafat meets Mubarak, will consult Arab ministers on U.S. peace proposals
January 3, 2001
Arafat concludes second meeting with Clinton
January 2, 2001
Clinton and Arafat to meet Tuesday to discuss framework for peace
January 1, 2001

RELATED SITES:
Israeli Prime Minister's Office
Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs
The White House
Palestinian National Authority
Palestinian Position on Clinton's Proposals

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