Netanyahu, Arafat To Meet Clinton

President Clinton invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to separate meetings at the White House this week in hopes of breaking a long deadlock in the Mideast peace process, an administration official said Thursday.

The meetings were arranged in separate telephone calls by Clinton to the two leaders. Netanyahu is expected to see the president on Monday; Arafat is expected to visit later in the week.

Earlier Thursday, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said "we keep making progress" in helping Israel and the Palestinians toward a West Bank accord. U.S. officials believe the process is at a stage where Clinton's intervention could make a difference.

The meeting would be the first at the White House for either Netanyahu or Arafat since January, when Clinton summoned them to Washington but was unable to win major progress.

U.S. officials are seeking to break an 18-month old impasse in peacemaking that began when Israel broke ground for a Jewish settlement atop a disputed East Jerusalem hilltop. Further blows to the peace process came from Islamic militants who launched a wave of suicide bombings inside Israel.

The administration official said Clinton wanted to give the process a push through face-to-face talks.

"It's important that we find a way to move quickly to final status negotiations," the administration official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. "That's what both parties have expressed a willingness to get to."

The United States is pushing for Israeli implementation of a second territorial withdrawal, which was agreed to by Netanyahu's predecessor as part of the Oslo peace agreements.

Israel has demanded that Arafat's Palestinian Authority improve security cooperation and prevent Islamic militants from carrying out attacks on the Jewish State.

Both sides accuse the other of violating peace accords.

Israel is said to be close to agreement with the Palestinian Authority on a withdrawal from an additional 13 percent of land, with 3 percent of it to be designated a nature preserve under Israel's security control.

However, Arafat's stand on a Palestinian state has emerged as a possible obstacle to settlement. He said he would declare a Palestinian state unless Israel agreed to the idea by next May.

Netanyahu says that interim Oslo agreements between Israel and the Palestinians specifically rule out such declarations, reserving statehood to be settled between the two sides.

©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