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Arab, Israeli Leaders Arrive For Emergency Peace Summit

By John M. Broder and Norman Kempster
Los Angeles Times
WASHINGTON

Arab and Israeli leaders began arriving here Monday night for an unrehearsed emergency meeting designed to end the Israeli-Palestinian violence and to resume progress in the region's tortuous search for peace.

The extraordinary summit is scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday, despite Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's deep misgivings and a snub from Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who rejected President Clinton's personal appeal to attend.

Risks are high and expectations low for the talks, which Clinton proposed over the weekend after clashes in Jerusalem, Gaza and the West Bank left more than 70 Palestinians and Israelis dead and more than 1,000 wounded in a burst of violence that put the Israel-Palestinian peace accord in jeopardy.

"It's clear to me that the Middle East peace process is in a state of crisis," said Secretary of State Warren Christopher.

Clinton brings together Arafat, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Jordanian King Hussein with no "negotiating paper or formula" for success, said presidential spokesman Mike McCurry. "It is rare in this process that we engage at this level - at the highest level - without a preordained outcome," McCurry said at the White House. "I think the fact that President Clinton took the step to call this session, to invite the leaders here, reflects the seriousness and gravity of this moment."

Officials noted that each of the foreign leaders could face hazard at home by appearing weak or too quick to compromise under pressure from the United States.

Netanyahu left Israel amid urgings from Likud Party compatriots not to make concessions.

Arafat dithered for 24 hours before finally deciding to make the trip to Washington. The Palestinian leader fears that meeting directly with Netanyahu at this juncture would touch off a revolt among hard-liners in his coalition.

Even Clinton confronts some peril by investing U.S. prestige only five weeks before a national election in an undertaking with no guarantee of success.

But administration officials said that the danger of inaction is greater than that of trying and failing to restart the frozen Middle East peace talks.

A senior State Department official said: "There was a real risk that if we didn't do something dramatic, the whole fabric (of the peace process) would have unraveled. There is a recognition on the part of all those who are coming that the risks of the present situation were so great that they overshadowed all other considerations."

The official said Washington's primary objective is to restore a measure of confidence between Netanyahu and Arafat. "We have had a very serious deterioration in the environment, a very serious diminution of trust," the official said. "Every time we have had (a crisis) before, there was a modicum of trust between the parties."

Although final details for the meetings' format had not been fixed by Monday night, officials released this outline:

Middle East trouble-shooter Dennis B. Ross planned to meet with each delegation shortly after its arrival in Washington to talk about agenda and procedure. Hussein landed early Monday evening. Netanyahu was expected about midnight. Arafat's plane was scheduled to arrive early Tuesday morning.

Clinton is to meet with each of the three leaders separately at the White House Tuesday morning, with perhaps a brief meeting of the four principals before lunch.

The delegations are then scheduled to split up for substantive afternoon meetings with Christopher and other U.S. officials at the State Department or Blair House.

The U.S. organizers hope - but have no guarantees - for a working session with Netanyahu, Arafat, Clinton and Hussein some time Tuesday.

If that does not happen, it will probably indicate that things are going badly.

U.S. officials also hope that more meetings of all participants will occur Wednesday. But it was uncertain whether there would be a final communique or closing news conference before the delegations depart.

State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns said of the U.S. objectives for the talks: "You can boil it down to five words - meet, stop fighting, start talking."