Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat met warily at an emergency summit aimed at halting bloody clashes in the Mideast, but the marathon talk sessions ended early this morning with no cease-fire agreement.
The 16-hour talks came to a close at 4 a.m. local time with President Clinton promising to return at dawn to continue trying to reach a cease-fire agreement. The president did not say anything before retiring to his hotel here for the night.
Clinton urged both sides “to move beyond blame” for the more than two weeks of armed clashes in the West Bank and Gaza that have left 101 people dead, most of them Palestinians, but sources say assigning blame for the current Mideast violence is a firm demand of the Palestinians.
Arafat is said to be insisting there be a significant task force effort to identify the causes of the violence and an international commission to assign blame.
“I think it’s very tough going,” said White House spokesman Jake Siewert said. He said earlier that the negotiations were “intense but at an even keel.”
In the deadliest violence in the region in four days, two Palestinians, including a 15-year-old boy, were killed by Israeli gunfire. In several areas Monday, Israeli troops returned fire from Palestinian gunmen leading large protest marches against a renewal of contact with Israel.
Monday’s deaths brought to triple digits the number of people killed in 19 days of fighting. More than 1,000 Palestinians have been injured. It has been the worst Israeli-Palestinian violence since 1993, when the Oslo peace accords launched the now-shattered peace process.
Clinton had a busy day, meeting with Barak and Arafat three times each.
The president also met with Jordan’s King Abdullah, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan once.
CIA Director George Tenet had also reportedly been in and out of talks.
During the opening session, Barak and Arafat did not even officially come together. They sat at a horseshoe-shaped table that put them at some distance from each other as Clinton warned the participants, “We cannot afford to fail here.”
“This is a very dangerous time, and a very serious situation,” said P.J. Crowley, national security spokesman for the White House. Crowley told reporters the sober tone of the summit was reflected in several small conversations that followed a joint luncheon that included host Mubarak, Annan, European Union security chief Javier Solana, and King Abdullah.
Shortly after the talks resumed following a recess, Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo told reporters a second day of talks might be needed. “Until now there is no progress, the atmosphere has not improved. Therefore I am not sure we will finish tonight.”
Glimmer of Hope?
Officials on all sides have voiced doubt that the summit could be a success. Israeli officials said the atmosphere was “very difficult,” adding that the summit might produce a joint statement at best, rather than any formal cease-fire agreement.
Just a few weeks ago, many felt a final, permanent peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians seemed within reach. In a more hopeful sign, both sides maintain they have long-term hopes for a permanent peace deal.
But U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright downplayed expectations for today’s talks, saying a cease-fire, and not a peace pact, was the immediate goal.