US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright failed to bridge yawning gaps between Israel and the Palestinians after meeting the leaders of both sides Wednesday as part of her efforts to arrange a summit with US President Bill Clinton.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak told Albright that the only way to secure progress ahead of a mid-September deadline for a final peace accord with the Palestinians was through a summit meeting with Palestinian president Yasser Arafat and Clinton.
"Until now we have no agreement. The substantial negotiations will begin only if and when there will be a summit meeting," Barak told reporters after meeting Albright, who earlier held talks with Arafat and her Israeli counterpart David Levy.
Only hours earlier Arafat rejected a US suggestion for a mid-July three-way summit, stressing to Albright that more negotiations were needed first.
As she prepared to head back to Washington Thursday, the two sides remained deeply divided on all the key issues in their decades-old-conflict, including control over Jerusalem, the borders of a future Palestinian state and the fate of millions of Palestinians refugees.
While the Palestinians continued to insist they want the return of all land occupied by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war, including east Jerusalem, Barak and Levy ruled it out completely.
Arafat, however, did leave the door open a bridging summit to take place later in July.
"We are still not agreed in any major way on any of the issues," said Palestinian international cooperation minister Nabil Shaath in the West Bank town of Ramallah.
"There has been progress (and) the continuation of the negotiations will help do that and I think will give President Clinton the chance to evaluate better when the summit should take place."
"We're still far apart and we would like to see a summit held in the White House presided over by President Clinton to be successful," he added.
Hassan Abdel Rahman, the Palestine Liberation Organization's representative to Washington also told reporters after the Albright-Arafat meeting that "there will be further talks and then it will be decided when the summit will be."
Palestinian peacemaker Saeb Erakat said negotiator-level talks, which limped ahead with little results until Albright arrived in Israel Tuesday, would continue early next month.
Barak's commitment to the summit, however, implied that if the negotiations continued, they would be similarly crippled.
Palestinians have said they first want to see progress on several of the delayed so-called interim issues, chief among them a deep troop withdrawal from the occupied West Bank required by the 1993 Oslo peace accords.
Palestinians also want Israel to release more Palestinians from their jails, an emotional issue they need resolved to sell any peace deal to their people.
But Barak, who is battling to keep his ruling coalition afloat, stressed that Israel would not be willing to go too far to make peace.
"I have very clear red lines," Barak said, denying reports he intended to hand over up to 92 percent of the West Bank to the Palestinians.
Barak maintained that he would not return to the border of before June 1967, that Jerusalem would be united, that there would be no foreign troops west of the Jordan River and that most Jewish settlers would remain under Israeli sovereignty.
"The Palestinians cannot talk to their people with decades-old slogans about the 1967 lines, Jerusalem and refugees," Levy told reporters.
"Israel will not capitulate and not surrender," he added.
But at the same time, Nabil Abu Rudeina said Arafat had his own "red lines" for a final peace with Israel.
Both sides have set September 13th as the deadline for a final accord and Arafat has vowed to implement independence from Israel even if no agreement is reached by them.
Israel and the Palestinians alike fear violence could erupt after a unilateral declaration of statehood.
Israel has said it would mean the end of the peace process, but Palestinians say independence is worth the price – OCCUPIED JERUSALEM (AFP)
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)