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The BBC's Simon Crutchley
"Few details have emerged so far"
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Edward Said talks to the BBC
"I wouldn't want to be in Yasser Arafat's place"
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Thursday, 13 July, 2000, 23:55 GMT 00:55 UK
Clinton tight-lipped on peace talks
Israeli soldiers patrol East Jerusalem
Israeli soldiers patrol East Jerusalem - a main stumbling block
President Clinton has returned to the Middle East peace summit at Camp David but has refused to be drawn on the substance of the negotiations.

Mr Clinton told journalists he believed the less he said, the greater would be the chance of success.

A strict news blackout has been imposed on the talks between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat.

Earlier an American spokesman confirmed that the two leaders had held their first face-to-face talks.

It was the first time the two men have met at Camp David near Washington without US President Clinton, who earlier spent the day away from the summit venue to attend to domestic events.

The US is pushing for a single comprehensive settlement to resolve all outstanding issues, including the establishment of a Palestinian state, the future of Palestinian refugees and the sovereignty of Jerusalem.

Arafat, Clinton and Barak
The three key figures get together at Camp David
US State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the two leaders and members of their delegations met for about an hour in Mr Arrafat's cabin before dinner on Wednesday evening - but refused to give further details.

He would only say the parties were grappling with the core issues involved in a final peace accord.

A leading Palestinian academic, Edward Said, warned Mr Arafat that he would face huge opposition at home if he were to make any concessions to achieve peace.

Professor Said told the BBC that leading Palestinians were warning Mr Arafat against backing down on any of the main stumbling blocks between the two sides after more than 50 years of struggle.

Huge gaps

They are also insisting that no deals be made without them first being submitted to a referendum of the Palestinian people.

After Wednesday's session, Mr Clinton's spokesman, Joe Lockhart, acknowledged that progress had been difficult.

But he said the delegates had been discussing all the substantive issues that needed to be addressed for a settlement.

Officials from both sides acknowledge that the gaps between the two sides are wide.

Sticking point

In Israel, Haim Ramon, a cabinet minister and close confidant of Mr Barak, has said that one proposal under discussion was that large Jewish settlement blocs in the West Bank would be annexed to Israel in exchange for unpopulated Israeli territory.

However, this has not been confirmed by officials at the talks.

Both sides have acknowledged that the future status of Jerusalem, which both sides claim as their capital, is the most difficult issue on the table.

On alert

The Israeli newspaper Maariv on Thursday reported that Mr Barak had a proposal for a compromise on the city, offering Mr Arafat control of Muslim holy sites.

Officials have warned of unrest if the talks fail, especially as Mr Arafat has pledged to declare statehood on 13 September, regardless of whether a deal is reached or not.

On Wednesday, Mr Arafat's Fatah organisation said it had declared a state of emergency to avoid violence in case the summit ends without agreement.

Reports from Israel say the army has also begun to prepare for possible confrontations.

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