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Arafat leaves White House after more talks
Earlier Tuesday, the two talked for more than two hours about how to reduce Israeli-Palestinian violence and discussed questions Arafat has about Clinton's proposals for a peace deal between the two sides, White House officials said.
The earlier two-hour, 10-minute meeting included a one-on-one session in which the two leaders spoke for 30 minutes with only a translator present.
Arafat declines comment
On leaving the White House after the first session, shortly before 5 p.m., Arafat had brushed past reporters without saying a word. The meeting came as further violence and an increasing body count drew a veil of pessimism over the prospects for peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
Arafat had sought to clarify details of Clinton's proposals to break a stalemate in the hunt for peace between the two Mideast adversaries, despite doubts from both sides that any agreement was on the horizon.
Arafat agreed to a meeting with Clinton after the American president telephoned him on Monday to discuss ideas Clinton had put forward last month as a basis for negotiations.
With both sides drawing absolute lines in the sands of the Mideast, Arafat came to Washington on Tuesday under a cloud of doubt, while Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak said on Israeli radio that it was "unlikely" any agreement could be reached before Clinton leaves office on January 20.
Barak later told reporters that it was "not probable" that an agreement could be reached by February 6 -- the date he faces the Israeli electorate in a vote for prime minister that he considers a referendum on his policies.
Barak also accused Arafat of wasting time by "dragging his feet."
"We have very serious doubts about the seriousness of his intentions to reach an arrangement," the Israeli leader said.
In Washington, White House Press Secretary Jake Siewart reiterated Clinton's belief that Arafat and Barak were "closer than they have ever been" to an agreement, but acknowledged that the road ahead was not an easy one.
"There's a lot of negotiation to be done if they were to sit down," Siewart said before the Clinton-Arafat meeting began. "We think they ought to have the opportunity to sit down and talk through some of those differences."
Siewart said that Clinton was still optimistic that an agreement could be reached, but said that the president recognized that it was "up to the parties to decide if they want to make the hard choices involved."
Although Clinton's proposals were never officially made public, reports indicated that they envisioned an independent Palestinian state covering 95 percent of the West Bank and all of Gaza -- and Palestinian control over Haram al-Sharif, a Muslim holy spot in east Jerusalem, known to and revered by Jews as the Temple Mount.
In exchange, the Palestinians were to drop their demand for a right of return for Palestinian refugees -- and their descendants -- who fled or were driven out of Israel when it was founded in 1948.
Initially, the Israeli government indicated it was prepared, with reservations, to negotiate on the basis of Clinton's proposals, but the Palestinians declared they needed more details.
In the days that followed, Barak said that he would never sign an agreement that handed over sovereignty of the Temple Mount. The Palestinians followed with a declaration that they would never give up the refugees' right of return to Israel, a point the Israelis said was non-negotiable.
With each side blaming the other for the continuation of violence, both Barak and Arafat face tremendous pressure from their constituencies to make no further concessions to the other side.
So far, at least 328 Palestinians have been killed since the latest round of violence began on September 28, according to the Palestine Red Crescent Society.
Forty-five Israeli Jews have been killed since that time, along with 13 Israeli Arabs, according to the Israel Defense Forces.
David Horowitz, editor of the Israeli news magazine The Jerusalem Report, told CNN that the Palestinian reservations about Clinton's proposals were "so profound and so central as to effectively render those proposals unworkable.
"The Israeli feeling is that there's really no mileage left in this diplomatic effort, and that (there is) a very bleak future to look forward to," he said.
Ghassan Al-Khatib, a Palestinian political analyst and publisher of the Palestine Report, said that the Clinton proposals fail to address some very crucial points for the Palestinians.
"Some of it has to do with Palestinian refugees because the American ideas avoided explaining what is going to be the future of those refugees and they presented their ideas in very general terms," he said.
Al-Khatib rejected the Israeli contention that Arafat is not serious about peace.
"Arafat is willing to help end the conflict in a final way ... but only when Israel is willing to end completely its occupation (of) all the Palestinian-occupied territories," he said.
Horowitz, however, saw weak Palestinian leadership as the main block to peace.
"I think the Israeli governments down the years have prepared their people for the necessity for painful compromise," he said. "I think the Palestinian leadership has failed to prepare its people for the need to forego some of their maximal demands."
But despite all the negativity, Palestinian officials said some hope still remained.
"(Arafat's meeting with Clinton) could help in holding a three-way meeting or a return to negotiations," said Palestinian cabinet minister Nabil Shaath. "All this depends on the results of the meeting."
And Barak, who had also spoken with Clinton by telephone on Monday, left room for further negotiations, saying he would consider sending representatives to Washington providing "terrorism" in the region ends.
Violence continued on Tuesday
The Clinton-Arafat talks came as the violence continued Tuesday.
Israeli soldiers shot dead a 52-year-old Palestinian farmer with a gunshot to the neck, the Palestinian Red Crescent said. Palestinian police said he was shot by Israeli troops as he worked on his land near the Jewish settlement of Dugit. But the Israelis said they fired after an explosion in the area and immediately shot in the direction of the blast, in accordance with procedures designed to prevent ambushes.
In other violence, two Israeli motorists were wounded, one of them seriously, when their car was fired on near a checkpoint on the road from Jerusalem to Modiin in the West Bank, Israeli authorities said.
Additionally, at least two Israeli soldiers were injured as a number of explosions went off near army patrols around Jewish settlements in Gaza, one day after a car bomb injured more than 40 people in the Israeli resort city of Netanya.
Israeli defense officials said one of those soldiers was injured when a roadside bomb exploded near an Israeli patrol outside the Jewish settlement of Kfar Drom in the south of Gaza.
The Associated Press reported that seven Palestinians were wounded as they rode in a jeep near the Egyptian border, but it did not provide details.
CNN National Security Correspondent David Ensor and CNN Correspondent Matthew Chance contributed to this report.
Arafat to meet Clinton on Middle East peace on Tuesday
Palestinian National Authority
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