Albright ‘Sick’ Over Impasse Secretary Says Palestinians, Israel Have Stalled ‘Far Too Long’

MONDAY, FEB. 2, 1998

Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright scolded Israeli and Palestinian leaders Sunday, telling them she is “sick and tired” of their refusal to compromise.

In separate meetings, she told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat that she is fed up with finger-pointing as a substitute for the hard decisions needed to break an 11-month deadlock in peace talks, a senior U.S. official said.

Albright’s strong signal of impatience marked a new step in the Clinton administration’s campaign to bridge wide gaps between Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

After four hours of talks with Netanyahu Saturday that stretched into the early morning, and two hours with Arafat Sunday, Albright issued a pessimistic assessment of the state of Middle East peace.

“We have been stalled at this point in the peace process, negotiating the same issues for a long time - frankly, far too long,” she said in a news conference before leaving Israel for Kuwait. “There is far too much at stake for this to go on. … The current stalemate, which has lasted for more than a year now, is eroding (previous) gains and threatening the entire process.”

Although most of her talks with the two leaders focused on the stalled peace process, Albright announced a modest step forward: Both sides agreed to send envoys to Washington for further negotiations next week.

Netanyahu, in remarks to American Orthodox Jewish leaders after he met with Albright, acknowledged the lack of progress but continued the finger-pointing. “Israel is fulfilling its commitments, and the other side is violating its commitments,” he said.

Saeb Erekat, a top Palestinian negotiator, said Arafat had laid the blame squarely at Israel’s feet in his meeting with Albright, telling her “the only way to revive the peace process” is for Israel to withdraw its troops from more of the West Bank, in compliance with past agreements.

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