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Barak, Arafat meet for first time since July
From staff and wire reports
JERUSALEM -- Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian President Yasser Arafat met Monday for the first time since Middle East peace talks broke down at Camp David, Maryland, in July.
Under strong pressure from the United States, the two men met Monday night at Barak's home north of Tel Aviv.
After the meeting, Arafat left by helicopter to return to his Gaza headquarters and confer with his top advisers.
No detailed negotiations or breakthroughs were reported, but officials said the meeting was intended to pave the way for more substantive talks later.
President Clinton phoned both men during the meeting and impressed upon them the need to strike a peace deal.
Negotiators from both sides are scheduled to meet this week in Washington with U.S. officials for further talks.
The meeting came as pressure increases on both sides to reach a final agreement on so-called core issues that have blocked the Israeli-Palestinian peace process: sovereignty over East Jerusalem and the fate of Palestinian refugees.
Barak faces time pressures to reach a deal because he is expected to face a no-confidence vote in Israeli parliament when its summer recess ends at the end of next month.
"We now need to take the tough decisions," acting Israeli Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami said prior to the peace talks. He said the two sides must agree on a timetable for a deal covering the core issues.
"Today, when we're approaching the moment of truth, when courageous people have to make courageous decisions," said Yossi Beilin, Israel's justice minister, "it is a must that they will talk to each other and see whether it is possible to get to the permanent solutions and to touch all the delicate issues."
Ben-Ami said there was still a chance the sides could forge a peace treaty to resolve all issues but that Israel would consider a partial agreement if a comprehensive deal proved out of reach.
"We never ruled out the possibility in case we are unable to reach an agreement on all issues to postpone one or two issues, but this is not on the agenda right now," he said.
But Palestinian officials have ruled out any agreement that does not include a resolution to the Jerusalem issue.
"It's impossible," said Ahmed Qorei, speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council. "We cannot leave if any issue will be left. It will create problems. It will be a time bomb for a new explosion."
Palestinians want East Jerusalem, captured and annexed by Israel during the 1967 Middle East War, as the capital of their planned independent state.
Other pressure factors
The Palestinian Authority this month postponed plans to unilaterally declare an independent state after months of threats by Arafat to do so. Both the United States and Israel have warned that such a move would be a mistake.
Barak and Arafat last met when they failed to forge a peace agreement at a 15-day summit hosted by U.S. President Bill Clinton in the United States in July. The two leaders shook hands this month at the United Nations Millennium Summit in New York.
All sides have said that if a peace deal is not sewn up before the U.S. presidential election in November, peacemaking could be sidelined for months while Clinton's successor settles into his job.
Clinton has helped steer Israel and the Palestinians toward various interim peace deals and brokered a 1994 treaty between Israel and Jordan. He hopes to cap his presidency with a treaty between Israel and the Palestinians.
Palestinians said negotiators for both sides would go to Washington in the next few days to meet U.S. officials. An Israeli diplomatic source said negotiator Gilad Sher would fly to Washington on Tuesday.
CNN Jerusalem Bureau Chief Mike Hanna and Reuters contributed to this report.
Israel, Palestinians resume contacts after brief time-out
The Israeli Government's Official Web site, by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs
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