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The BBC's Paul Welsh
"Both sides have heard it all before"
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Tuesday, 17 October, 2000, 13:22 GMT
Analysis: A deal beset with ifs
President Clinton with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Middle East leaders
The Middle East agreement will be tested by events on the ground
By diplomatic correspondent Barnaby Mason

The agreement announced by President Clinton has gone some way to meeting the demands of both Palestinians and Israelis.

But its terms are vague and can only be tested by what happens on the ground.

It's significant that the agreement was presented as a statement by President Clinton, a summary of what had been agreed - as he put it - so there would be no misunderstandings.

Arafat supporters in Nablus, West Bank
Will Arafat go against Palestinian anger?
He and the other participants did not take questions from journalists afterwards, a clear attempt to prevent the deal unravelling as soon as it had been concluded.

But initial remarks from the Palestinian and Israeli sides showed they were keen to claim a victory.

International inquiry

A senior Palestinian official said Israel had agreed to their demand for an international inquiry into the violence; Israeli television said Yasser Arafat had withdrawn the demand.

Mr Clinton said a fact-finding committee would be set up by the United States in consultation with the two sides and with the United Nations Secretary-General, Kofi Annan.

It appears that experts from the UN and the European Union may take part, but the committee's report will be published by Washington.

So the Israelis can say it is an American inquiry, while the Palestinians argue that it is international.

Public statements

On the crucial question of ending the violence, Mr Clinton said both sides would issue unequivocal public statements calling for it to end; if Mr Arafat does that, he will meet a key Israeli demand.

In the past, he has been reluctant to be pinned down in this way, especially if it means going against Palestinian anger on the streets.

As for Israel withdrawing forces from Palestinian-controlled areas and ending the sealing off of the territories, that is referred to vaguely in the agreement to restore the situation that existed before the crisis erupted.

Mr Clinton didn't mention the re-imprisonment of Hamas militants released by the Palestinians, one of Israel's main demands.

There seems to be no document signed by the two sides; whether the agreement takes hold depends not only on reaction on the streets but crucially on the American president himself.

It is his agreement, and Mr Clinton's continued active involvement will be essential in holding the Palestinian and Israeli leaders to it.

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See also:

17 Oct 00 | Middle East
In their words: Summit quotes
16 Oct 00 | Middle East
Clashes claim Palestinian lives
14 Oct 00 | From Our Own Correspondent
Only pain uniting the divided
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