The Palestinians Walk Out

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JERUSALEM: Frustrated Palestinian negotiators unexpectedly walked out of peace negotiations with Israel Monday night. It was the second walkout of the day, coming shortly after U.S. mediator Dennis Ross threw up his hands and departed for Washington. Earlier in the day, Ross threatened to give up on the talks altogether and head home unless the two sides made some progress towards an agreement on the Israeli withdrawal from the Palestinian town of Hebron. Although Ross said that some progress had been made, it was clearly not enough. The Palestinian negotiators left abruptly, according to Israeli spokesmen Moshe Fogel, because Israelis refused to renegotiate aspects of the agreement that had been worked out in recent negotiations. Israeli Radio announced that all of the military issues surrounding the pullout had been settled, and only minor issues of civilian administration remained. Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat reportedly left for Bethlehem to discuss the new disagreements with Palestinian Chairman Yasser Arafat, who earlier Monday dismissed speculation that he had been delaying the talks in the hope that after the U.S. elections President Clinton would exert more pressure on Israel to reach a deal with the Palestinians. In Washington, Secretary of State Warren Christopher said Ross would return to the Middle East within a week and that the U.S. will continue its effort to bring the negotiations to a close. Before leaving, an optimistic Ross concurred: "We made progress this week. I think there were hopes that we could finalize in some areas. That didn't materialize. It doesn't mean we can't press ahead and reach agreement as soon as possible." possibly the only way he could have emerged a winner which means another lost opportunity to gain ground before November 5. Josh Dubow