US President Bill Clinton said Sunday he was sending special envoy Dennis Ross to the Middle East as part of efforts to settle the half-century old conflict with "peace and dignity for both Israelis and Palestinians."
Ross would leave for the Middle East "in the next few days" for talks on the basis Clinton's proposals presented to Israeli and Palestinian negotiators on December 23, according to a senior US official.
Addressing a Jewish-American audience here, Clinton said he believed his proposals could pave the way for a comprehensive settlement in the region.
"The parameters I put forward contemplate a settlement that responds to each side's essential needs, if not their utmost desires: a settlement based on sovereign homelands, security, peace and dignity for both Israelis and Palestinians," he said.
The president said there could be no genuine resolution to the conflict without a sovereign and viable Palestinian state or without taking into consideration Israel's demographic realities and security requirements.
Under the proposals, the Palestinians would gain sovereignty over all of Gaza and the vast majority of the West Bank, while Palestinian refugees would be allowed to return to their homeland, Clinton said.
"And so my parameters focus on the establishment of a Palestinian state," he stressed. "I believe that this is the outline of a a fair agreement."
Speaking of his vision of the future of Jerusalem, the president said it must be "an open and undivided city ... with assured freedom of access and worship for all."
While Clinton expressed confidence the peace in the Middle East will eventually triumph, earlier Sunday US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said a final accord will most likely not be reached during Clinton's tenure.
"We're not going to, obviously, be able to take it off the table completely, but I think if there are things we can do in the remaining two weeks with this very special president, I think we ought to try," Albright told CNN.
Clinton, who wanted a Middle East peace accord to be part of his legacy, leaves office on January 20.
Palestinian officials have said that the effort to reach a settlement will, if necessary, continue under the incoming US president, George W. Bush.
Bush's designated foreign policy and national security advisors receive daily briefings from their counterparts in the Clinton administration, on issues including the Middle East peace process, officials said.
However with violence continuing on a daily basis in the Palestinian territories and also inside Israel, prime ministerial elections in Israel on February 6 bring a further sense of urgency to the current attempt to narrow the differences between the two sides.
Embattled Israel Prime Minister Ehud Barak, who was counting on a peace deal to bolster his chances in the polls, is tipped to lose heavily to right-winger Ariel Sharon.
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat met with Jordanian King Abdullah II in Amman Sunday.
And US Central Intelligence Agency chief George Tenet was in Cairo for talks with Israeli and Palestinian negotiators on "security cooperation" between the Israeli and Palestinian authorities.
This cooperation has faltered in recent months as violence in the West Bank and Gaza intensified, leaving more than 370 people dead.
Arafat's visit to Washington last week, during which he broadly accepted Clinton's proposals as a basis for discussion, was followed by talks here Friday between Clinton and senior Israeli negotiator Gilad Sher -- NEW YORK (AFP)
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