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Crisis talks will go on Israelis, Palestinians to meet nonstop; no summit breakthrough; 'Problems are still there'; Top Mideast envoy to broker talks on Hebron, other issues

WASHINGTON — WASHINGTON -- Leaders of Israel and the Palestinians concluded a two-day crisis summit at the White House yesterday without settling any of their deep disagreements, but they agreed to nonstop negotiations, starting Sunday, on advancing Palestinian autonomy.

"I would say that the problems that exploded last week in violence, that the problems are still there," said President Clinton as round-the-clock talks ended, conceding that no breakthroughs had been achieved.

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But the president, who brought the leaders together, said the talks had revived the imperiled Middle East peace process, and he pleaded with the restive populations on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian divide not to resume the violent clashes that produced the crisis.

"Please, please give us a chance to make this thing work in the days ahead," he said. "Give us some time to let the thing cool down."

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Clinton told reporters that he would immediately dispatch his top Middle East envoy, Dennis Ross, to the region to broker talks on the Israeli troop withdrawal from the volatile West Bank town of Hebron and on other steps to carry out agreements previously reached between Israel and the Palestinians.

The idea of continuous negotiations over Israeli withdrawal from Hebron was not new. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu proposed them before his arrival in Washington on Monday.

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat came to the meeting demanding that Israel set an early date for withdrawal.

Both Netanyahu and Arafat scheduled solo news conferences after Clinton spoke, but Arafat -- without explanation -- failed to show up for his.

Netanyahu, who conceded nothing beyond proposing to resume peace talks, called the summit a success in building trust and understanding between Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

"In my heart, I know that the children of Israel are safer tonight because of these consultations that we had here," he said.

"And I want to thank again President Clinton for his very good offices."

He said the talks would work to ease tensions between Israeli and Palestinian security forces and hasten the end of border closings that have thrown many Palestinians who work in Israel out of jobs.

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The talks, he added, also stand to improve prospects for the Palestinians' gaining the airport they seek.

"We've made it very clear that we are committed to a redeployment in Hebron," Netanyahu said. "We're not reluctant to do it, we're prepared to do it, but in such a way as to avoid a breakdown that would collapse the peace process not only in Hebron but altogether."

He said Arafat had pledged to try to prevent new violence. "He [Arafat] repeatedly said that he had given orders to his police force to stop all violence and to observe also the rules of conduct that he laid down -- and he promised me that this would be a continuous aspect of our relationship."

Though Arafat was unavailable, Palestinian officials said the meeting gained little.

"The peace process is on the verge of collapse," Mustafa Natsheh, the mayor of Hebron, told Reuters. "Unless international and Arab public opinion and Israeli peace groups move, the area will not witness any calm and the cycle of violence will return anew."

Palestinian Cabinet member Hanan Ashrawi, interviewed by CNN in Jerusalem, acknowledged the lack of any progress from Arafat's perspective but said his constituents would not blame him. She said he went to Washington with "full popular support" and "put up a good fight."

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Clinton convened the leaders in an effort to quell the bloody turmoil triggered last week when, after months without progress on the peace front, Netanyahu's Likud government inflamed Muslims by opening a new entrance to a tunnel in Jerusalem near the Al Aqsa mosque, Islam's third-holiest shrine.

Violent clashes, with Palestinian police at times shooting at Israelis, left 76 people dead, the majority of them Palestinians.

Since Israel elected a conservative government in May, negotiations have not resumed on a series of issues that were part of the 1993 peace agreements signed in Oslo, Norway, which ended four decades of war between the two peoples.

Those issues include the ceding of more of the West Bank to the Palestinian authority, "final status" negotiations on control of Jerusalem, Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza, and the question of a Palestinian state.

The summit fulfilled the minimal White House expectations of restarting the peace talks, and Clinton insisted that had he not invited the leaders here, the region may have plunged into even worse violence.

"Imagine what you would be reading in the press and seeing on the news if they had not come here," he said.

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But with five weeks to go before the election, Clinton had limited leverage. With Republican opponent Bob Dole demanding that he not bring pressure on Israel, the president avoided any appearance of trying to strong-arm Netanyahu or Arafat.

Yesterday's joint appearance in the East Room offered a stark contrast to previous dramatic White House ceremonies with Arab and Israeli leaders, starting with the historic handshake between Arafat and then-Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin on the South Lawn in 1993.

In place of ringing declarations about an end to generations of hostility, Arafat, Netanyahu and King Hussein of Jordan sat mute and dour as Clinton read a statement on their behalf.

Clinton said the others asked him to do all the talking, including answering questions, fearing that otherwise, a loose remark by one of the leaders could upset the negotiations.

The lack of real progress forced Secretary of State Warren Christopher, at a White House news briefing, to grapple with the uncomfortable question of whether Clinton had squandered the prestige of presidential summits, which are usually choreographed.

"The risk of violence and chaos was sufficiently grave to justify the president's intervention," Christopher said.

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Pub Date: 10/03/96


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