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Friday, October 23, 1998 Published at 15:35 GMT 16:35 UK

Analysis: The road ahead

The negotiations were long and hard

By Middle East Analyst, Roger Hardy

After nine strenuous days, an agreement has at last been reached. Despite American attempts to impose a press blackout, enough has emerged to show what an extraordinary summit this has been.

Of course, the Middle East peace process has witnessed acrimonious exchanges, threatened walkouts and repeated delays before. But this time it required the sustained personal involvement of an American president to compensate for the all-too-evident lack of trust between the two main parties.

Just as remarkable has been the role of King Hussein of Jordan. He reportedly gave what is being described as an "impassioned speech" to the Israeli Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, and Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, on Thursday night, urging them to press forward to an agreement. His intervention throughout this summit has been a remarkable act for a man undergoing treatment for cancer.

Concessions and compromise

The agreement has resolved some issues and fudged others. Israel is to withdraw - over a three-month period - from a further 13% of the West Bank. But there was no agreement on a further withdrawal - a disappointment for Mr Arafat. The issue is to be dealt with by an Israeli-Palestinian committee.

Various Palestinian bodies are to meet to ratify the cancellation of clauses in the PLO charter which call for Israel's destruction. This represents a compromise, and rather less than Mr Netanyahu was calling for. Nor has he got a Palestinian commitment to hand over suspected terrorists.

Instead Mr Arafat has agreed to arrest 30 people wanted by the Israelis - and it will be up to the American CIA to keep an eye on what happens to them, as well as monitoring the other security commitments made by the Palestinians.

Keeping up US pressure

It is an important and necessary agreement, and President Clinton is entitled to claim some of the credit for the outcome. But most analysts agree that sustained American involvement will be needed if the parties are now to successfully implement the agreement - while simultaneously entering all-important talks on a final peace settlement.

Israeli and Palestinian leaders now have the task of selling the agreement to their own people - and preventing hardliners from sabotaging it. But above all, it must remain an open question whether the painfully difficult negotiations over the last few days have generated enough trust to carry the peace process forward.

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