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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Mideast Peace Talks in Final Phase




THURMONT, Maryland -- With stakes mounting as the Camp David summit nears its third week, U.S. President Bill Clinton returned to negotiations Sunday evening and American officials suggested that the talks, now centered on the future of Jerusalem, could break apart in the next day or solidify into a deal.


Adding a new aura of gravity to the discussion over Jerusalem, the Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, traveled to Saudi Arabia to ensure Saudi support for the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, as he weighs a U.S. proposal on the contested holy city.


The diplomacy by Mubarak, who enjoys the best relations with Arafat of any Arab leader, was seen by the Israelis and the Americans as an effort to fashion a wall of Arab solidarity behind the Palestinian leader.


The Americans made it plain through the State Department spokesman, Richard Boucher, that the summit would not go on indefinitely and could reach a make-or-break point as soon as Monday.


"We are not here for an unlimited period of time," Boucher said.


The president would be given an immediate assessment and this would be "very important" in how the talks moved, he said.


Privately, U.S. officials suggested that if progress was not made by Monday, it would be difficult to keep going. If the talks moved toward midweek, they added, that would be a sign that things were going well.


At his summer palace outside Rome, Pope John Paul II entered the Camp David debate, exhorting the summit leaders in his weekly Sunday address to adopt a long-held Vatican position that a special international status be extended to the holy sites in the old city of Jerusalem.


As important figures on the outside tried to nudge the conference toward an agreement, Clinton left behind the relative calm of the Group of Seven leading industrial nations plus Russia economic summit in Japan, and entered what appeared to be, from several accounts, a razor-edge atmosphere among the Israelis and Palestinians at Camp David.


To relieve the tensions, the Israeli prime minister, Ehud Barak, visited the Civil War battlefields at Gettysburg on Sunday with U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.


Arafat relaxed at Albright's Virginia farm where she served him lunch Saturday.


But these outings were mere interludes in a process that is inexorably building toward a climax, one way or the other.


The conference went into its 13th day Sunday, the entire duration of the first Middle East peace conference at Camp David under the auspices of then U.S. President Jimmy Carter in 1978.


The Israelis have been publicly stating over the last few days that Barak was willing to make concessions on Jerusalem, though it was far from clear that they would be enough for Arafat.


Gadi Baltiansky, Barak's spokesman, suggested that the Israelis believed the summit had entered its critical phase.


"It won't take a lot of time," Baltiansky said. "President Clinton will return to Camp David and then we will see if there is any point in staying here, and going on with the talks, or to pack the luggage and go home."