Snag stalls Mideast interim peace deal signing
October 23, 1998 - CNN - Excerpt
An official announcement of an interim peace agreement for the Middle East and the document's expected signing were on hold at midday Friday, as U.S. and Israeli negotiators tried to resolve a last-minute snag.
Early Friday, sources told CNN that Israeli Prime Minister
Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Yasser
Arafat had agreed to an interim peace accord, and that the
final draft of the document was hours away from being
finished. The sources said the document would be signed at
the White House on Friday.
But a demand from Israel that the United States release
convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard and allow Pollard to
return to Israel this weekend with Netanyahu put the events
at Wye Mills on hold.
Pollard was apprehended by U.S. officials in the mid-1980s,
and convicted in 1987 on treason* and espionage charges for
giving U.S. intelligence information to the Israelies.
As of late-morning Friday, the status of Pollard's possible
release was unclear.
Sources told CNN Friday that U.S. President Bill Clinton had
agreed to Pollard's release in principle, and that the
release could come sometime this weekend.
But shortly before 11 a.m. EDT, a senior Clinton administration official said there was no deal to release Pollard.
"We're hoping and praying that President
Clinton will do the right thing," Pollard's
wife, Esther Pollard, told CNN.
The dispute left in doubt a planned White
House signing ceremony for the so-called
Wye River Memorandum, originally expected to be held about noon in the
East Room of the White House.
"We have hit a snag," one senior administration official said. "We are
working very hard to unravel the problem."
No one disputes that there is a security agreement to put the Middle East
peace process back on track, but everything was on hold until Clinton and
Netanyahu worked out their differences over the possible release of Pollard.
Members of the Palestinian delegation waiting to sign the agreement said
Friday they were concerned that it could be scuttled over an attempt by
Israel to "blackmail the United States" on an unrelated issue.
"We're here waiting, either to sign, or to leave if the Israelis leave," Ahmed
Tibi, an adviser to Arafat, told CNN.
U.S. officials say they still expect the interim peace agreement to be signed
Clinton, Netanyahu and Arafat were up all night working out final details of
the interim peace agreement.
While Clinton and Netanyahu worked on their issues, Arafat was polishing
up his formal remarks for the anticipated signing ceremony, CNN's Andrea
Once the memorandum is signed, officials say the final-status talks will begin
immediately. Those talks will center on such contentious issues as the status
of Jerusalem and the borders for a possible Palestinian state.
The final status talks must be completed by May 4, 1999, when the Oslo accords expire.
*Note: Pollard was never charged with
treason: only with one count of
passing classified information to an ally.