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Negotiator says Arafat wants to bridge gaps with Israel
JERUSALEM (CNN) -- A key Palestinian negotiator said Tuesday that Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat is determined to bridge serious differences that are blocking a peace agreement with Israel.
Saeb Erakat, however, said the Israelis haven't made a positive diplomatic shift in their position since last month's failed Camp David talks.
"What we need now is to concentrate to produce a win-win situation because that's the only way out of this deadlock," Erakat said in an interview with CNN Jerusalem Bureau Chief Mike Hanna. "The gaps between us as of today, as of yesterday, are still really wide."
Erakat has played a key role for the Palestinians in attempting to secure an accord and continues to meet with U.S. special envoy Dennis Ross, who recently has engaged in shuttle negotiations between the parties while on holiday in the Middle East.
Ross, speaking Tuesday from Cairo, Egypt, where U.S. President Bill Clinton met with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak at the conclusion of a three-day African trip, said Middle East talks are driven by a sense of urgency.
"I know, and (Clinton) was very clear on this, that we don't have a lot of time, that there is a window here ... and it shouldn't be lost," Ross said.
Too much 'finger-pointing'
Negotiators for Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Arafat have met informally several times since the Camp David talks broke up in a stalemate July 25.
Erakat said Tuesday he thinks Israel is still in a stage of "finger-pointing" against the Palestinians. He said the Israelis have tried to win sympathy from countries such as the United States by blaming the Palestinians for stalled talks.
After the Camp David talks broke down, Clinton appeared to suggest that Arafat had proved less willing to compromise than Barak.
Erakat tried to lower expectations for bilateral meetings Clinton will have with Arafat and Barak on September 6. Such target dates end up becoming a "sword on the neck" of the sides as they try to resolve their differences, he said.
The Palestinians and Israelis, deadlocked over such issues as the return of Palestinian refugees and the designation of east Jerusalem for a Palestinian capital, previously have designated September 13 as their deadline to reach a final peace. Many experts anticipate talks will go on, however, if progress appears evident.
Erakat also offered high praise for Mubarak, who has met with Arafat as well as Clinton to try to shore up negotiations.
"We really hope that this marvelous and genuine Egyptian effort will culminate in results and in bridging the gaps in certain areas," he said.
Time works against talks
Ross said Tuesday that Egypt, an Arafat ally, and the United States, long a supporter of Israel, are trying to share information that each gleans from their contacts with the parties. Tuesday's meeting in Cairo helped Clinton and Mubarak better understand each other, he said.
Both men are prepared to do all they can to give peace negotiations every possible chance of succeeding, Ross said.
Time is a factor in the discussions not only because of the self-imposed September 13 deadline but also because of the volatile political situation in Israel, where Barak is fighting to hold onto a coalition government, Ross said.
Still, Ross sounded doggedly upbeat as he met with reporters.
"We know that based on the discussions we've had at Camp David, it's possible to reach an agreement," he said.
Barak arrives in Egypt for talks with Mubarak
PLO. Negotiations Affairs Department/WHO'S WHO/Dr. Saeb Erakat
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