A Matter of Trust

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JERUSALEM: All set to return to the U.S. Friday amid complaints by Palestinians that he sided too much with Israel in peace negotiations, Dennis Ross abruptly changed course and held last minute talks with Yasser Arafat. The move came after Arafat refused to meet with Ross out of a growing frustration that the U.S. envoy was not taking an active enough role in talks. Palestinian negotiators have in fact for weeks been pushing President Clinton to dump Ross. "Palestinian officials . . . don't trust him," Arafat spokesman Marwan Kanafani told TIME last week. Palestinians say Ross has not pressed Netanyahu's government hard enough on the issue of new Israeli construction in the West Bank. Although the U.S. has strongly criticized Israeli building projects in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the Clinton Administration has so far appeared unwilling to push for specific concessions. While Arafat called for a greater U.S. role in a letter to Clinton that was harshly critical of Ross, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright defended the current strategy: "It is actually the two parties that have to come together. It is the two parties that have to make the difficult decisions here."