Compromise on Hebron

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JERUSALEM: Thanks to an effective tag-team act by U.S. envoy Dennis Ross and Jordan's King Hussein, the last major obstacle to the Israeli pullback from Hebron may have been resolved. Talks between Arafat and Netanyahu had foundered on the due date for withdrawal from West Bank rural areas, and the two sides had been a year apart until Sunday, when King Hussein agreed to wade in. Piloting his own helicopter to a meeting in Gaza, Hussein convinced Arafat to agree to a U.S. proposal to let Israel prolong the rural pullout until mid-1998, meeting Netanyahu halfway. Ross, in turn, assured Arafat that the United States would guarantee the Israeli rural withdrawal in a separate document, to be attached to the agreement. Under the compromise, the first pullback would be carried out by February 28, the second one eight months later, and the third no later than August 31, 1998. Israeli and Palestinian negotiators, along with Ross, met Monday at a Jerusalem hotel to try to put the agreement on paper. The remaining sticking points include a timetable for the release of Palestinian prisoners and security arrangements for a Palestinian airport. Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat said that once the draft was finished, Netanyahu and Arafat would meet to approve it. Should the compromise, and the U.S. guarantee, hold up, the deal should be signed by Tuesday. And then the final negotiations, on the future of Jerusalem and the creation of a Palestinian state, can begin.