Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Optimism Settles over Peace Talks Panelists Weigh Clinton's Ideas

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Optimism Settles over Peace Talks Panelists Weigh Clinton's Ideas

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON -- After a long, violence-marked impasse, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators showed signs of optimism yesterday as they considered President Clinton's ideas on how to conclude a peace agreement.

"They are speaking about the real issues," Israel's foreign ministry spokesman Moshe Debby said in describing what he called a changed stance by the Palestinians. "This is the difference we can feel."

Palestinian negotiator Yasser Abed Rabbo said his side was making headway toward one of its prized goals. "Concerning sovereignty over Arab Jerusalem, including holy Islamic and Christian shrines, we are very close on this point," he said.

According to people close to the Israeli delegation, Prime Minister Ehud Barak has sweetened an offer made at this year's Camp David talks, skating close to suggesting he would yield Israeli sovereignty over the disputed Temple Mount in exchange for Palestinian renunciation of a "right of return" for millions of refugees displaced by Israel's founding.

Israeli Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami, who is leading his country's delegation, added to the speculation yesterday when he told Israeli army radio that "we wish to preserve our special affinity with the Temple Mount." That is a retreat from the standard Israeli formulation calling for "sovereignty" over the site, known to Arabs as the Noble Enclosure.

Ben Ami said Clinton had "presented what he called the possible parameters of an agreement," adding, "Israel could definitely live with the majority of these parameters." He described the talks as "the most radical, daring, difficult procedure ever."

Debby said the talks at a U.S. air base in southeast Washington are expected to end tomorrow and "then it will be decided whether we can arrange a summit or not. We don't have a lot of time."

The negotiations, in their fourth day at Bolling Air Force Base, were shrouded in secrecy until the sudden burst of public optimism about the outcome.

If the talks end successfully, U.S. national security adviser Sandy Berger or another senior envoy could soon travel to the Middle East to prepare for a summit aimed at wrapping up a settlement before Clinton leaves office, according to a senior administration official. …

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