Israel, Palestinians Pessimistic even as Peace Summit Salvaged
Israel and the Palestinians voiced skepticism Thursday that their leaders could strike a peace deal even after US President Bill Clinton salvaged a Middle East summit aimed at ending the longstanding conflict.
"The fact the delegations are staying does not signal any progress, breakthrough or a return of confidence," Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak's spokesman Gadi Baltiansky told public radio.
Clinton, anxious to crown his presidency with a peace deal, said the talks would continue during his absence for a summit of industrial nations in Japan, only hours after the White House declared the marathon Camp David talks a failure.
Baltiansky, who is with Barak's delegation at the presidential retreat outside Washington, charged that Palestinian President Yasser Arafat "has not shown the necessary flexibility to reach an accord."
But Palestinian spokeswoman Hanan Ashrawi said that although the resurrection of the talks gave some room for hope, there were still gaps and Israelis were negotiating with "an occupier's mentality and not as a peace partner."
"The most that Clinton can hope for is to prevent a breakdown and perhaps to signal a continuation through maybe a framework or principles agreement," she said.
Suleiman Najjab, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization's executive committee, said Israel simply needed to implement international resolutions.
"If the summit fails, it is a failure of American policy because it stands behind Israel, and a failure of Israeli policy because they refused to implement international resolutions," he told a press conference in Ramallah.
Israel and the Palestinians, who first signed a historic peace declaration in Oslo in 1993, face a self-imposed September 13th deadline for a final deal on the most contentious issues.
Both sides fear violence could erupt if the Palestinians carry out a pledge to declare independence come September, and both leaders are also wary of a political backlash if they are seen to make too many concessions.
Israeli army radio said the United States had presented the two sides with a draft accord with proposed solutions for all outstanding issues barring sovereignty over east Jerusalem, which Israel occupied in 1967.
Barak accepted the document "after much hesitation," while Arafat rejected it, the radio said.
"I think an understanding on Jerusalem is practically impossible because Ehud Barak cannot make any further gestures on the issue while the margin of maneuver for Yasser Arafat is also limited," said Labour MP Uzi Baram, a member of the Israeli delegation - OCCUPIED JERUSALEM (AFP)
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