JERUSALEM -- A U.S. envoy shuttled between Israeli and Palestinian leaders yesterday but appeared to make little headway in a last-ditch effort to broker an agreement aiming at reviving Middle East peacemaking.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had said he could not meet a Clinton administration deadline for agreeing to U.S. proposals to hand over another 13.1 percent of West Bank territory to Palestinian control and would not attend a summit tomorrow in Washington.
Yesterday, with time running out and no apparent change in the Israeli position, U.S. officials accepted the inevitable and announced that the summit was postponed. But they held out hope that it could be rescheduled for later in the month.
U.S. envoy Dennis B. Ross, who was sent to the region last week in a last-ditch attempt to reach a deal before the deadline tomorrow, met for two hours late yesterday with Netanyahu, but no progress was reported. The two men did agree to meet again today, according to a senior Netanyahu aide.
Earlier, after talks with Palestinian authority President Yasser Arafat in the West Bank city of Ramallah, the veteran Middle East envoy said he had yet to bridge the gaps.
"The differences aren't large, but they do remain," Ross told reporters. "I don't know that we'll be able to overcome [them] at the present moment."
Saeb Erekat, the Palestinians' chief negotiator, said that Ross had told Arafat in their two-hour meeting of the "very difficult time" he was having with Netanyahu.
The Palestinian official urged the Clinton administration to put an end to the months of inconclusive meetings and push for implementation of the existing accords.
Responding to Israeli complaints that the United States was putting undue pressure on Israel to accede to the American proposals -- and quickly -- Erekat retorted that it was the United States that was now bending to pressure from Israel to scuttle a deal.
"It is very obvious that it's time for the American administration to recognize that Mr. Netanyahu is not a tough negotiator, but a nonnegotiator," Erekat said.
U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, who issued the invitations to Netanyahu and Arafat to meet with President Clinton, was hopeful to the last minute that the summit might come off on time.
"I have not yet taken no for an answer," she said at a meeting of foreign ministers in London yesterday. "This situation is dynamic. There's an awful lot of work going on. When Prime Minister Netanyahu left here, I think all of us felt there was hope and I continue to have that hope."
She added: "Obviously, it is very important that there be consideration of the ideas we have proposed and we would hope that there would be acceptance of our conditioned invitation to Washington."
The U.S. invitations were contingent on both sides' first accepting the U.S. ideas, which call for Israel to hand over another 13.1 percent of West Bank territory to Palestinian control in exchange for concrete Palestinian steps to combat terrorism, and other measures.
Arafat accepted the package, but Netanyahu did not, insisting that Israel could not safely give up that much more territory at this point in the negotiations.
Publicly, Israel has offered to cede 9 percent more land, and Netanyahu has privately told U.S. officials that he is prepared to give up another 11 percent.
But Washington insisted that Israel agree to the full package, including the 13 percent figure, as a condition for the summit, which was intended to mark the opening of accelerated talks aimed at reaching a permanent Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.
Netanyahu said no, at least for now.
It was not clear, however, whether a compromise might yet be reached, possibly through various formulas under which some of the land transferred to the Palestinians would remain under some form of Israeli security control.
Pub Date: 5/10/98