January 13, 1997 in Nation/World

Progress Reported In Middle East Talks King Hussein Convinces Arafat To Accept Longer Israeli Withdrawal

Associated Press

Jordan’s King Hussein persuaded Yasser Arafat on Sunday to accept a prolonged Israeli withdrawal from West Bank rural areas, sources said, in a concession that could hasten a comprehensive accord on expanding Palestinian autonomy.

“We can envision the end of the negotiation in sight,” said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after meeting with Hussein. “Because of the important initiative His Majesty took, we have made considerable progress.”

Earlier in Gaza, Palestinian leader Arafat agreed to Hussein’s proposal that Israel could prolong its three-stage withdrawal from West Bank rural areas, thus narrowing the gap on the key sticking point in the talks, a top Palestinian official told The Associated Press.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that if Netanyahu agrees to the proposal, signing is expected today - ending four months of negotiations.

Israeli and Palestinian negotiators were to meet this morning in Jerusalem to write out the agreement, said Ed Abington, the U.S. consul in Jerusalem.

In Tel Aviv, Netanyahu, Hussein and U.S. envoy Dennis Ross were upbeat but non-committal, saying work remains.

“I leave here confident that everything will move in the right direction, … a fresh beginning to continue the work to achieve the kind of peace and the kind of future we seek,” Hussein said after the 90-minute meeting.

“We are closer than we were,” said Ross.

The Jordanian monarch, whose motorcade was escorted Sunday night by police cars with sirens blaring toward the Israeli defense ministry, was received with a warm handshake by Netanyahu.

Although the sides have agreed on the details of Israel’s 10-month-late pullout from Hebron, the signing of the accord has been held up by a dispute over the timetable for a promised three-stage pullout from West Bank rural areas.

The 1995 Israel-Palestine Liberation Organization agreement calls for that withdrawal to be completed by September. Israel, arguing that the security situation has changed, has said the end of 1998 is the earliest possible date for completion of its withdrawal.

The Palestinian official said the compromise proposal would require Israel to complete the three-stage pullout by mid-1998 - a significant departure from the Palestinians’ previous insistence on the original deadline.

© Copyright 1997 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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