IN THE NEWS #439 - Middle East Peace Talks

By Caty Weaver

This is Steve Ember with the VOA Special English program IN THE NEWS.

Palestinian and Israeli negotiators plan to re-start their peace talks on Sunday. The goal is to reach a final peace agreement before September thirteenth. That is the day Palestinian President Yasser Arafat says he is set to declare a Palestinian state.

On Friday, developments centered on comments by President Clinton to Israeli television. Mr. Clinton said it would be a "big mistake" for the Palestinians to declare statehood without Israeli agreement. He warned that the Palestinians would lose American aid. However, he said he is sure the two sides can reach an agreement.

Mr. Clinton described Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak as "more creative and more courageous" than Mr. Arafat at the Camp David talks. He also said he will consider moving the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Palestinians oppose that idea. They reject Israel's claim to all of Jerusalem as its capital. They want the eastern part of the city to serve as the capital of a Palestinian state.

The future of Jerusalem was the most difficult issue at the talks that ended Tuesday at Camp David. The talks at the presidential home near Washington lasted fifteen days. No agreement was reached. Still, President Clinton said both sides made real progress. He noted that for the first time they discussed all of their most extreme differences.

They reportedly reached compromises on the issues of Palestinian refugees and the borders of a possible Palestinian state. Israel is said to have talked of surrendering ninety-five percent of the West Bank and all of Gaza. And, Israel reportedly agreed to admit about one-hundred-thousand Palestinian refugees. The refugees would get money from a proposed international fund. Mr. Clinton says the Palestinian team at Camp David also supported the idea of paying Jews who were forced to flee Arab countries.

Thousands of cheering Palestinians welcomed Yasser Arafat on his return to Gaza Wednesday. Mr. Barak faced a much different reaction at home. He had lost his parliamentary majority before the Camp David talks.

Just over half the Israelis questioned by the Jerusalem Post newspaper think he offered too much to the Palestinians. Three-fourths of those questioned said he should call new elections or bring the main opposition Likud party into the government.

Israeli and Palestinian negotiators plan to meet Sunday at the border between Israel and Gaza. On Monday, the Israeli parliament is to vote on a measure to withdraw support from Mr. Barak's minority coalition. President Arafat has urged Israelis to support their prime minister.

This VOA Special English program IN THE NEWS, was written by Caty Weaver. This is Steve Ember.

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