Clinton, Barak and Arafat to Meet in Oslo
Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - President Bill Clinton will meet Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat individually in Oslo Monday, in another bid to push US-sponsored peace efforts towards a final negotiated settlement.
The three leaders will meet Tuesday for their first three-way summit since last December.
The two-day talks follow a weekend attack on an Israeli bus. Gunmen presumed to be Palestinians wounded five Israelis in the shooting. Some analysts believe that terror attacks carried out shortly before important negotiations are designed by rejectionist groups to stall the process.
The summit, organized around a memorial ceremony marking the fourth anniversary of the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, aims to keep up the momentum of negotiations between Israel and the PA toward a final agreement between the two.
"Coming back to Oslo where the Oslo accords [the basis of the peace process between Israel and the PA] were born, coming here to honor the memory of Yitzhak Rabin who gave his life to the peace process, it's a good thing to do," Clinton told reporters in Oslo.
Prior to departing for Oslo, Clinton had warned against high expectations that great progress would be made at the summit. But upon arriving he said he was "hopeful" progress would be made toward establishing a framework agreement.
Israel and the Palestinians agreed at a September summit to establish a framework for their final negotiations by February 2000. The plan is to provide a structure for negotiating solutions to the tough problems that have plagued the relationship between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs for the last century.
Barak's security advisor, Danny Yatom, said Israel was not expecting great strides to be made at the summit.
"We don't expect major results from this summit, which is being organized first and foremost to mark the fourth anniversary of the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin," he told Israel Radio.
"At Oslo there will be numerous political meetings, but I don't think the outlines of an accord will be drawn up there," Yatom added.
Barak, who arrived in Oslo on Sunday evening, said Israel was "looking to continue [Rabin's] legacy to bring peace to the Middle East, to put an end to the conflict in our region."
Rabin, a mentor to Barak, was killed in 1995 by an Israeli gunman, alarmed at the pace and direction of the peace process with the PA.
Rabin entered into talks with Arafat, leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in 1993, thereby legitimizing the PLO as the sole representative of the Palestinian people. Israel had previously refused to negotiate with terrorist organizations.
The Israeli general then entered into agreements with Arafat beginning a process of ceding control over territory in Judea and Samaria (the "West Bank"), which many Israelis consider their Biblical inheritance and the heartland of Israel.
The PA is hopeful it will come away from the Oslo summit with concrete concessions. It wants to convince the U.S. that it must play an active role in upcoming talks - a proposition Israel resists - and it is hoping to force a freeze in Jewish settlement activity in the West Bank.
"We will ask for a continuing and effective American presence because not much time remains," Nabil Abu Rudeina, a top Arafat aide, was quoted as saying.
"We will ask for an end to settlement activity and demand that final status talks should be launched as soon as possible," Rudeina said. "There is no time to be lost."
"Settlements are the real obstacle to the final status negotiations," Mahmoud Abbas, or Abu Mazen, Arafat's deputy said in Oslo on Sunday.
For his part, Barak is expected to share his "red lines" with Clinton. They include: no return to the 1967 borders -- i.e., no agreement to relinquishing all of the West Bank; keeping Jerusalem as the united capital of Israel; no foreign army west of the Jordan River (any Palestinian entity would have to be demilitarized); keeping most Jewish settlements in blocs, under Israeli sovereignty; and no return of Palestinian refugees to the State of Israel.
According to a report in the Hebrew daily Ha'aretz, Barak will also offer to accept the establishment of a Palestinian state shortly before a final agreement is signed, in order to make the final settlement between two countries.
Clinton said earlier he would hear more at the summit about Barak's separation plan, which the Israeli leader last week called a "logical imperative."
Barak has said he is in favor of establishing a physical separation between Israel and the Palestinians in order to "create good neighborly relations, mutual respect and cooperation."
The U.S. is concerned that such a separation may sabotage the Palestinian economy by locking out many Palestinian laborers who earn their livelihood in Israel.
Barak said it was not his intention to "harm the economy" of the PA but rather to develop a plan which is in the "long-term, security interest of the State of Israel."
Final status talks are due to begin between Israel and the PA next week with the aim of completing negotiations by September 2000.