Mideast Peace Breakthrough?

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday he and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat had achieved a breakthrough on a long-elusive deal to turn over more West Bank territory.

After meeting with Netanyahu and Arafat at the White House, President Clinton said they had made substantial progress and would meet again in Washington in mid-October to seek a final deal.

"I believe that we all agreed that we have made progress on the path to peace," Mr. Clinton told reporters after an hourlong session with the two leaders in the Oval Office. He described "a significant narrowing of the gaps between the two parties across a wide range of issues."
The two Middle East leaders flew to Washington Monday following talks that lasted late into Sunday night with Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in New York. After their three-way session in the Oval Office, Netanyahu and Mr. Clinton were holding a one-on-one meeting, and President Clinton is to meet Arafat separately on Tuesday.

"I think we're getting close to finalizing an agreement and it's time for the leaders to meet," Netanyahu said on a nationally televised interview before the White House meeting.

In his remarks to reporters, Mr. Clinton did not mention details. Earlier, Israeli diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity, said there was agreement that Israel would withdraw from an additional 13 percent of the West Bank -- adding to the 27 percent already under partial Palestinian control.

Three percent would be turned into a nature preserve and kept under Israeli military control, with Israeli and Palestinian construction prohibited.

In the Oval Office, Mr. Clinton stood between Netanyahu and Arafat in front of an unlit fireplace. They faced a wall of cameras and correspondents yelling questions over each other. Mr. Clinton hushed the reporters once for a question.

Both Netanyahu and Arafat looked straight ahead, stone-faced, as President Clinton spoke. Arafat's eyes roamed tentatively as he took in what his interpreter was saying. Netanyahu only briefly looked at Mr. Clinton as the president noted the "very unusual commitment" both Mideast leaders were making to negotiating peace.