Mideast Leaders Say Settlement Is Closer

ByABC News
January 27, 2001, 1:56 PM

T A B A, Egypt, Jan. 27 -- The Israeli-Palestinian peace talks in thisRed Sea resort concluded today without any agreement, leavingfurther peace efforts to a possible meeting between Israeli PrimeMinister Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Though an accord was far from reach, a joint statement issued bythe sides said the six-day Taba talks were "unprecedented in theirpositive atmosphere" and left them closer than ever to anagreement.

"Given the circumstances and time constraints, it provedimpossible to reach understandings on all issues despite thesubstantial progress that was achieved in each of the issuesdiscussed," the statement said.

Barak and Arafat May Meet

Officials on both sides said Barak and Arafat may meet in Europenext week in a last-minute effort to forge a deal before Israel'sfateful Feb. 6 elections. Israeli Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Amisaid international efforts were under way to arrange theBarak-Arafat meeting, and Israel radio said the two may meet in theSwedish capital of Stockholm.

Even if the meeting were arranged, it was highlydoubtful the two leaders would be able to overcome wide gaps on thetouchiest issues.

Success in peace negotiations is crucial for Barak, who isrunning an uphill race against hawkish challenger Ariel Sharon.Sharon, who led Israeli forces during the 1982 Lebanon invasion,opposes many of Barak's painful peace compromises.

A Sharon victory, Arafat told the Italian daily La Republica inan interview published today, would cause "an escalation of theconflict. With him in power we cannot have peace."

Despite the perceived urgency, the Taba talks left both sidesdisappointed and without tangible results to take home. Palestiniannegotiators said the teams were close on the issues of security andborders of a future Palestinian state, but far apart on the thornyquestions of Jerusalem's future and the fate of the millions ofPalestinian refugees who want to return to former homes in what isnow Israel.