US President Bill Clinton has outlined to Israeli and Palestinian negotiators "parameters" of a proposed peace deal, most of which Israel considers acceptable for purposes of discussion, Israeli Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben Ami said Thursday.
"President Clinton presented us with the parameters of an accord; that is to say, a possible margin of maneuver on the different unsettled issues, and we consider most of them to be an acceptable basis for discussion," Ben Ami told Israeli military radio from Washington.
Ben Ami also said Clinton had expressed a desire to complete current discussions by January 10, which is 10 days before his term as president ends.
"There is no guarantee that we will reach an accord but, for the first time since the (failed) Camp David summit in July, we have the impression that the Palestinians want to succeed."
Israeli and Palestinian negotiators have been meeting since Tuesday at Bolling Air Force base near Washington in an effort to find sufficient common ground to resume the moribund peace process.
And on Wednesday, Clinton met with Ben Ami and top Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat at the White House.
The two officials were expected to remain here through Saturday and are scheduled to meet Thursday with US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, said White House national security spokesman P.J. Crowley.
Ben Ami also raised the possibility that there would be another meeting with Clinton on Friday.
"We will decide later, on Sunday, after the current session ends, and verify if there is a credible basis for pursuing the negotiations and for a more active participation of President Clinton and, perhaps for a (Barak-Arafat) summit," Ben Ami said.
On Wednesday, Crowley pledged that Washington would "do whatever we can to support the peace process, move them closer to an agreement," but emphasized that "we've gone through 11 weeks of violence in the region that has clearly left scars on both sides."
Since the Camp David summit collapsed, the two sides have remained at odds over the most sensitive issues dividing them, including the status of Jerusalem, which both sides claim as a capital, and the future of Palestinian refugees.
On the return of refugees, Ben Ami pointed out that Clinton had "reaffirmed several weeks ago in conversations with (Palestinian leader) Yasser Arafat that Israel cannot accept such a right."
Instead, Clinton has raised the possibility of a "resolution in the form of compensation for the refugees, their return to a future Palestinian state or their (permanent) settlement in the Arab countries" where they are now living.
He reiterated that Israel would agree to the return of only a limited number of refugees to Israel itself in the context of reunifying families on a humanitarian basis.
Earlier this week, in a sign of possible compromise, an Israeli cabinet minister close to caretaker Prime Minister Ehud Barak said Israel could give up sovereignty over the al-Aqsa mosque compound in east Jerusalem, known to Jews as the Temple Mount.
The trade-off would be an end to the right of Palestinian refugees to return home, a prospect that has alarmed Lebanon, which houses some 300,000 stateless Palestinians.
Turning to the question of territory, Ben Ami declined to confirm or deny media speculation that Barak would be willing to withdraw from 95 percent of the West Bank.
As to the mosque complex, over which the Palestinians want complete sovereignty, Ben Ami said Israel wants to "keep a special link with Temple Mount."
"The Palestinians are hoping for more than we are offering them now but we would rather leave that problem open and go on to other issues," he said. He proposed looking for a solution "within an overall context, based on give and take."
For his part, Erakat was more cautious Wednesday in his assessment of the talks so far.
"I don't want to raise anybody's expectations. We are having very, very serious discussions, but at the same time, we're facing major difficulties and serious differences," Erakat told reporters after the roughly 45-minute meeting.
Moreover, he said, it would not be advisable to convene a summit with Clinton, Arafat and Barak "unless we can assure a success." -- JERUSALEM (AFP)
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)