A Summit Shrouded In Doubt

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday he would go a "very long way" toward negotiating an agreement on a West Bank troop pullback, although only the previous evening he declared that there was no chance for such a deal.

Netanyahu made the conflicting statements to different audiences just before a make-or-break Mideast summit hosted by President Clinton at a secluded resort near Washington was to begin.

Opponents of a withdrawal deal have become increasingly vocal, threatening to topple the Israeli government and field a challenger to Netanyahu in the next elections if he signs off on a pullback deal with the Palestinians.

Israel's new foreign minister, hard-liner Ariel Sharon, said Israel would stand up to pressure and would not close a deal unless the Palestinians make good on their security commitments.

"We expect that the government will be sufficiently resolute and its delegation will be sufficiently strong to insist on the fulfillment of the commitments," Sharon said in a brief question-and-answer session.

Netanyahu has cited nine conditions the Palestinians must fulfill before he will go ahead with a withdrawal from 13 percent of the West Bank.

Among them: the Palestinians must arrest suspected Islamic militants, cooperate with Israel on security matters, reduce their police force by several thousand, confiscate illegal weapons, extradite prisoners sought by Israel, and annul sections of the PLO charter calling for Israel's destruction.

The Palestinians have noted that an understanding on security matters was negotiated by Israeli, Palestinian, and U.S. officials last year, and that it was Netanyahu who rejected the deal. The United States has been trying to work out a new arrangement.

After a meeting today with Jordan's Crown Prince Hassan in Amman, Netanyahu said that if Israel's security demands are met, "we will be willing to go a long way, even very long" toward a peace agreement.

Just Tuesday evening, in response to the killing of an Israeli man in a shooting attack blamed on Palestinian militants, Netanyahu appeared pessimistic. "In light of this gloomy reality, there is absolutely no chance, at this stage, of signing an agreement," said a statement released by Netanyahu's office.

A poll released Wednesday says Palestinians may share the Israeli Prime Minister's gloomy assessment of peace prospects. The Center for Palestinian Research and Studies, which conducted the poll of 1,331 Palestinians this month, said a majority of Palestians support "military action" against the Jewish State and doubt a peace deal can ever be forged.

"This result reflects an important negative change in public perception of the chances for the peace process," the Nablus-based West Bank Center said.

U.S. President Bill Clinton aims to break a 19-month-old peace deadlock at the summit starting on Thursday, with Israel handing over further 13 percent of the West Bank to Palestinians in return for security guarantees.

A proposed deal would leave Palestinians in partial control of 40 percent of the West Bank, including a 3 percent tract that would be designated a protected "nature preserve."

In Gaza on Tuesday, Palestinian President Yasser Arafat said there was still "a lot to be solved" before a deal could be sealed. U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright spoke to Netanyahu by phone on Tuesday, and her spokesman said an agreement at the summit was no sure thing.

Netanyahu has faced fierce opposition from right-wing members of his own governing coalition that may leave him dependent on a parliamentary "security net" to save his government, should he reach an accord with Palestinians.

It is unclear whether the left-wing votes will preserve Netanyahu's government in votes not directly related to the peace process.


©1998 CBS Worldwide Corp. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report
  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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