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Wednesday, 12 July, 2000, 16:08 GMT 17:08 UK
Peace in the Middle East

Israeli and Palestinian leaders are gathering at Camp David in the US this week for a summit which they hope will deliver a lasting peace.

The talks will focus on the future of Jerusalem, Palestinian borders and the fate of refugees. It is being seen as a make-or-break moment for both the Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

We put your questions to BBC Middle East Correspondent Paul Adams on the events leading up to this crucial meeting and the likely outcome of this latest round of peace talks.

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Natalie D, Israel: What do you think the chances are that this time we really will make peace?

Paul Adams: It's a very impossible question but I think that all one can say fairly, is that perhaps we might reach a kind of peace at Camp David. I don't think that there are too many people here in the Middle East who would say that the chances of making a comprehensive, lasting peace are terribly high. The issues they have to resolve - the question of Jerusalem, Palestinian refugees, Jewish settlements, future boundaries and so forth. All of these issues are too simply too complicated to resolve in any comprehensive way in a week of negotiations at Camp David. Obviously, the two sides have been at this for a very long time - it's seven years since the famous handshake on the White House lawn right at the beginning of President Clinton's term in office. He would like to see his term end with something equally groundbreaking but I don't think many people would say that a comprehensive peace is really on the cards at this stage.

Miss W Nasser, England: What makes this one this time different from previous attempts?

Paul Adams: In some ways, not a great deal. There have been a lot of summits in the past and two leaders, Yassar Arafat and Ehud Barak have attended several already. President Clinton has presided over quite a number of them too, so I think that in one sense, one could argue that this is really the latest in a long line of peacemaking summits. Obviously, there is something about the venue and the timing which make this a little different. This is Camp David, which hasn't hosted a Middle East Summit like this since 1978 and the two sides are hoping that some of that magic might rub off. However, I think that's a little fanciful and issues that separate Israel and the Palestinians are infinitely more complicated than those that existed between Egypt and Israel. The two leaders are very conscious of the need to make progress and to make it sooner, rather than later.

Tonje Merete, Norway: Do you think the parties are closer to an agreement than they want to admit in public?

Paul Adams: That's a very good question but no one really knows the answer. It's clear that a lot has been going on privately behind closed doors. We've had secret negotiations in places like Stockholm in recent months and it may be that in those negotiations, some progress on some of these issues has been made. We have been getting a lot of leaks in the newspapers in recent weeks about the kind of proportion of the Occupied Territories that Israel is willing to hand back to the Palestinians. We keep hearing figures of 80 to 90% as being ultimately what the Palestinians will get back. It's perhaps no bad thing that the talks have been rather secretive because until some kind of definitive deal is done, perhaps it's best to keep quiet about it. Whatever happens, there's still a long way to go.

Alex Karides, Cyprus: What is the best deal the Palestinians can realistically obtain re Jerusalem and will they sacrifice their presence there in return for more Gaza land for instance?

Paul Adams: I think that Jerusalem is, obviously, one of the most complicated issues and it's clear that it's rather a special case. Maybe the gap between reality and people's hopes is a rather wide one. The Palestinians obviously regard Jerusalem, as Israelis do, as their capital. They want the right to call Jerusalem their capital. Israel, on the other hand, wants to preserve what it regards as its sole, unified, sovereign authority over the city and those positions do appear to be diametrically opposed. I think Israel is likely to offer the Palestinians arrangements that deal with religious issues and administrative issues but is very unlikely, certainly at the beginning, to offer anything that the Palestinians might call sovereignty. However, I think that the two sides have evolved in their thinking and will continue to evolve, assuming the peace process continues in the coming months and years.

Patrick Kelly, Ireland: Paul, If these talks fail to break the deadlock over sensitive issues such as the future status of Jerusalem, how real is the threat by chairman Arafat to declare an independent Palestinian state before the end of the year?

Paul Adams: I think it's fair to say that it is a real threat and it's one that has been made many times. For the second time, Yasser Arafat is facing a deadline when he has promised his people statehood. He promised it to them in the spring of last year, that was put off and he said that if the current negotiations do not reach a satisfactory solution by the middle of September, he'll do it this time. I suppose that the question for Mr Barak is how can he find a formula that is acceptable to Yasser Arafat, that will get around the whole declaration of independence and would be suitably tempting to Yasser Arafat for him to be able to say to his people that better things are on their way?

Avi Vardi, USA: Can you describe the potential tension in Israel if an agreement is reached and a referendum is prepared. Is there any risk that the settlers will use their weapons to sabotage the agreement?

Paul Adams: Obviously, it's a concern to the Government. The kind of language that one hears being used by the opponents of this peace process is worrying. The outcome of this summit, assuming that it is successful, will be resisted by many, here in Israel and we have seen what these people are capable of. I think that perhaps, a little too much is made of the threats of violence by Jewish settlers. Threats are made and one hears them from time to time, but one also hears from many settlers who ultimately, will obey the rule of law. It will be a very difficult and tense time but I think that it is not unreasonable to expect that many settlers will accept what will, at that point, be an inevitability.

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