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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Christopher Fails to Break Hebron Deadlock

CAIRO -- On his final Middle East trip as secretary of state, Warren Christopher failed Tuesday in a long-shot effort to break a deadlock between Israel and Palestinians over the future of the West Bank town of Hebron.


Here mostly for a Mideast economic conference designed to promote peace through investment and development, Christopher met past midnight with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and arranged a follow-up session with Israeli Foreign Minister David Levy.


Christopher's chief spokesman said no discernible progress toward a settlement was reached in the meeting, but the secretary himself said later in a speech that "a final set of very specific understandings on Hebron is close at hand."


He said both the Palestinians and Israelis have a self-interest in moving forward in stages. "They remain committed to resolve this conflict through the structure of negotiations that together they have built," Christopher said.


Spokesman Nicholas Burns had said immediately after Christopher's meeting with Arafat that "the Israelis and Palestinians will come to an agreement when they are ready."


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu talked to Arafat by telephone Sunday before flying to the United States for a series of speeches, but they did not break the deadlock either.


Christopher brought along his senior Middle East adviser, Dennis Ross, and sent him to see Arafat first. He also directed Ross to remain in Cairo for a few days in the event Israeli or Palestinian negotiators, here for the economic conference, wanted to meet with him.


But Burns said Ross would not stay in the region for any protracted length of time. "The problem is both Israel and the Palestinians have not crossed the finish line yet," said Burns.


Christopher also met with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who praised his efforts on behalf of peace in the region. Christopher, in turn, recalled that Egypt was the first Arab country to make peace with Israel and said he always appreciated Mubarak's help.


Christopher is resigning before the start of President Bill Clinton's second term in January, and a search for a successor is under way. He pledged that Clinton and the new secretary of state "will continue to make the advancement of the Middle East peace process a top priority over the next four years."


The secretary of state gave the Middle East peace process his highest priority this year, but Israeli-Syrian talks are suspended, and steering Israel and the Palestinian authority to settle on Hebron so far has not succeeded. The goal is to implement an Israeli-Palestinian agreement that Israeli troops would redeploy to the city but steer clear of the 94,000 Arab residents and confine themselves to protecting the 450 or so Jews who maintain a 4,000-year Jewish presence in the city where the patriarch Abraham buried his dead.


Netanyahu has said he would carry out the commitment made before his election in May, but only under terms that secured a Jewish existence in Hebron.


Arafat has been holding out for a package deal that would include a further troop withdrawal from rural areas on the West Bank. He hopes to establish a state on the West Bank and in Gaza, with its capital in Jerusalem.


The slowdown in the peace process has caused a parallel slowdown in investments and development of the area, two administration officials said on Christopher's flight from Washington.


They said Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman and other Arab countries were sending ministers to the conference, but before corporations invest they want to be sure the region is secure.