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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Israel, PLO Fail to Set Summit Date

JERUSALEM -- Israeli and Palestinian negotiators ended a round of talks Monday without a date for a summit between Benjamin Netanyahu and Yasser Arafat, and both sides blamed each other for the deadlock.


Arafat said he remained committed to peace but that "it takes two to tango."


"Until now, we have not reached common ground [with the Israelis]," Arafat said. "We hope that we will reach such common ground."


Netanyahu spokesman David Bar Illan said the Palestinians were practicing "last-minute brinkmanship." He said the Palestinians initially agreed to negotiate new terms for an Israeli troop pullback in the West Bank town of Hebron, and then withdrew their agreement.


Hebron has been a key sticking point in efforts by Israelis and Palestinians to prepare the ground for an Arafat-Netanyahu meeting.


Israel's previous government initially agreed to withdraw its troops from most of the city of 94,000 Palestinians and 450 Jewish settlers by the end of March. However, the withdrawal was delayed because of suicide attacks by Islamic militants in Israel.


When Netanyahu came to power in May, he said he wanted to negotiate better security arrangements for the Jewish settlers. Arafat has said he would not renegotiate the agreement on Hebron, the last West Bank town under Israeli occupation.


Another issue is Israel's six-month closure of the West Bank and Gaza Strip which bars 2 million Palestinians from Israel, among them tens of thousands of workers. The closure was imposed in response to the spring suicide attacks. Israel has gradually allowed 35,000 Palestinians to return to their jobs in Israel.


The Palestinians demand that Israel significantly ease the blockade. Arafat said Monday the blockade costs the Palestinian economy between $6 million and $7 million a day and warned peace talks would collapse unless the restrictions were lifted soon.


Also on the agenda is the opening of a Palestinian airport in the southern Gaza Strip -- already under construction, but held up by Israel's demand to retain control over security.


In the latest round of talks, Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat and his Israeli counterpart, Dore Gold, met Sunday evening and talked through most of the night, until 3:30 a.m. Monday. The meeting took place at the Tel Aviv home of Terje Larsen, a senior UN official who played a key role in bringing Israel and the PLO together for secret contacts in 1993. Israel and the Palestinians have held a series of meetings since Aug. 13 at the Larsen home.


Colonel Shimon Shapiro, an intelligence aide to Netanyahu, and Mohammed Dahlan, head of Palestinian security in Gaza, took part in some meetings, an aide to Larsen said.


Bar Illan said Monday that negotiations were to continue at all levels throughout the day.


Erakat said Monday the Palestinians wouldn't settle for a ceremonial Netanyahu-Arafat meeting.


"We don't just want Netanyahu to come and shake hands with Arafat," Erakat said. "It's not a photo opportunity. We want Netanyahu to come out and say, 'There are agreements that I will implement and respect.'"


The Palestinian daily Al Ayyam said Monday the two sides have been trying to word a joint statement that would address the issues under dispute.


Palestinians have been bitter that Netanyahu has not met with Arafat since taking office in June.


Netanyahu -- who once said he would never meet the PLO leader -- said Sunday he would talk with Arafat when the situation warranted such a meeting.


Any meeting "is dependent on specific developments which I hope are in the making," he said on Israel Television. "This means that when the developments happen, there will be a meeting. There are contacts."


Netanyahu's government has antagonized the Palestinians by refusing to commit to a troop pullout from Hebron, and by approving the expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank.


It also refuses to negotiate on east Jerusalem, which the Palestinians want as a future capital. Last week, Israeli crews demolished a Palestinian youth center in east Jerusalem, claiming it had been built illegally.


Arafat said Saturday that Israel was not trying to make real progress toward peace, and he warned that the Palestinians may restart the 1987-93 uprising that helped drive Israel into negotiations in the first place.