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Thursday, October 22, 1998 Published at 04:36 GMT 05:36 UK

World: Middle East

Summit survives Israeli ultimatum

Palestinians demonstrate in support of those held in Israeli jails

Middle East
Negotiators at the Middle East peace summit are set for more hard bargaining to try to hammer out a deal, after averting a threatened Israeli walkout and talking through the night.

The week-long summit had come close to breaking up in disarray when Israeli negotiators packed their bags and made preparations to quit.

Stephen Sackur: Netanyahu pushed summit to brink of failure
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu issued a four-hour ultimatum - "make substantial progress ... or we go".

But BBC Washington Correspondent Stephen Sackur says frantic last-minute manoeuvring by US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and CIA Director George Tenet before Israel's deadline expired seemed to do enough to convince the Israelis to stay on.

[ image:  ]
Our correspondent says the talks could now go on for several more days.

President Clinton says he is returning to the talks on Thursday.

A US draft document has now been presented to both sides. At the heart of the US proposal is a phased Israeli withdrawal from 13% of the West Bank in exchange for a package of Palestinian security measures.

The Israeli delegation has been demanding concessions from the Palestinians on two issues

  • the extradition of militants accused of killing Israelis
  • amendments to the Palestine National Charter's provisions calling for Israel's destruction.
Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo described the ultimatum as irresponsible.

"This conference is a disaster because the Israelis are acting as irresponsible kids who are playing with fire," he told reporters.

US prestige

US spokesman James Rubin: "Not holding anyone against their will"
President Clinton has invested much time in the negotiations, and has put the full prestige of the White House and his foreign policy team behind the effort to break the deadlock.

[ image:  ]
His efforts have been supported by the presence of Jordan's King Hussein, who despite being seriously ill with cancer, spent seven hours at the talks.

It is unclear whether American draft proposals on key security issues were modified as a result of the Israeli threat to leave.

Earlier the American draft agreement had envisaged the involvement of the American CIA in Palestinian efforts to deal with attacks by Arab militants against Israeli targets.

Crucial to the deal was an Israeli decision to drop demands that the Palestinians hand over terrorist suspects for trial.

[ image:  ]
In return, the Palestinians were to pledge the arrest and jailing of militants whom Israel can prove were involved in attacks against Israelis.

The CIA would monitor the implementation of the agreement.

Still under discussion were questions of 'linkage' - how an Israeli military withdrawal from 13 % of the West Bank will be tied to new Palestinian security measures.

West Bank protests and arrests

[ image: Jewish settlers demonstrated against the likely peace agreement]
Jewish settlers demonstrated against the likely peace agreement
On Wednesday Jewish settlers in the West Bank tried to block roads in protest at the talks. Palestinians also demonstrated in the occupied territories, to remind negotiators of those still held in Israeli jails.

Right-wing political groups in Israel have threatened to bring down Mr Netanyahu's government if he makes any concessions.

Palestinian security forces have detained at least 15 suspected militants, following Monday's grenade attack in the Israeli town of Beersheba which wounded more than 60 people.

The detentions came shortly after the armed Islamic militant group Hamas said it was behind the attack, which had cast a cloud over the Maryland talks.

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