Barak Meets Albright after Spelling out Limits of Palestinian Deal
Shortly before a scheduled meeting with US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak spelled out Wednesday the limits of a peace deal with the Palestinians ahead of a possible summit with Palestinian president Yasser Arafat and US President Bill Clinton.
Speaking on public radio, Barak denied press reports that he intended to hand over up to 92 percent of the West Bank, and said the implementation of an agreement could only be discussed at a summit.
"I have very clear red lines," Barak said. "We will in no case return to the border of June 1967 (when Israel seized the West Bank and east Jerusalem from Jordanian control), Jerusalem will be united, there will be no forteign army west of the Jordan, and an absolute majority of settlers will remain under our sovereignty in blocks of settlements."
Barak said 150,000 settlers in such blocks under Israeli sovereignty would be "an immense historical success."
Later, Barak held talks with as part of the push for a final peace deal between the Jewish state and the Palestinians as a mid-September deadline looms.
Albright and Barak met for more than two hours at the prime minister's office, US State Department spokesman, Richard Boucher, said.
He described the talks as "a thorough and useful discussion of the issues" much of which involved Albright and Barak and only one top aide each.
An Israeli official said Barak, politically weakened in recent weeks by defections from his fragile coalition, had been joined by senior advisor Danny Yatom.
Albright, who meets Barak again later Wednesday after seeing Israeli Foreign Minister David Levy and Palestinian president Yasser Arafat, is to determine if there is enough common ground to bring the Barak and Arafat together in a Camp David-style summit with US President Bill Clinton.
"Her goal on this visit is to determine if we have a basis to go to a summit meeting or if more work is necessary," Boucher said, adding that Albright would depart on Thursday to report to Clinton before a decision on a summit is made.
"After she departs, she will report to the president and the president will decide on whether the time is appropriate to convene a summit," he said.
Israeli officials had no immediate comment on the Barak-Albright meeting, but Israel radio reported that Barak told Albright he wants to have the summit in July to finalize a deal for which the Israelis and Palestinians have set a September 13th deadline.
In Washington, the White House said Clinton would hold a news conference, his first formal one since March, on Wednesday after Albright's meetings here are finished, prompting speculation here that a summit announcement could be in the works.
In addition, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators say they remain poles apart on all the key issues to be decided, including control over Jerusalem, the borders of a future Palestinian state and the fate of millions of Palestinian refugees.
Thousands of settlers have been protesting in Jerusalem against any future peace deal that would involve handing over land in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip to the Palestinians.
Shortly after Albright arrived in Israel, a large group of demonstrators gathered outside the hotel where she is staying, chanting "Albright, go home."
Meanwhile Barak, whose fragile coalition is near to breaking up, suffered yet another political blow late Tuesday when his foreign minister, Levy, criticized him for mishandling the negotiations.
"Israel gave a lot without receiving anything in exchange because of the way the negotiations were handled," Levy said in a television interview. "We are in a process where there are two leaders in contact and there are no breakthroughs."
Levy's comments came as two of Barak's right-wing coalition partners, the National Religious Party and the Russian immigrant party, Israel B'Aliya, are threatening to pull out of the government if the prime minister fails to clarify the extent to which he is willing to make concessions towards the Palestinians.
In an effort to quell possible revolts, Barak on Tuesday summoned the heads of his government partners for an emergency session on Israel's negotiating positions with the Palestinians where they were briefed by Ross who has been in the region since last week preparing for Albright's visit - OCCUPIED JERUSALEM (AFP)
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)
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