U.S. envoy Dennis Ross called off a Mideast summit Washington had offered to hold today, and the collapse of the American diplomatic effort touched off a round of finger-pointing.
Palestinians blamed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for digging in his heels and not compromising on the scope of an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank. The Israelis were critical of U.S. diplomacy, saying the invitation to the summit had come in the form of an ultimatum.Ross, who was set to return to Washington, did not speak to reporters. Officials said he would consult today with President Clinton, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and National Security Adviser Sandy Berger on the possibility of rescheduling the meeting.
Ross telephoned Yasser Arafat, president of the Palestinian Authority, with the news during a meeting Sunday in Jerusalem with the chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, said U.S. Consul-General John Herbst. Ross then met with Netanyahu.
David Bar-Illan, a top aide to Netanyahu, said it was unlikely that a new date for the summit could be fixed until late in the month because of Netanyahu's travel plans.
Erekat blamed Netanyahu for the breakdown in negotiations, noting the Palestinians had agreed to a U.S. compromise proposal in which Israel would withdraw from 13 percent of the West Bank in exchange for tougher Palestinian security measures.
"The Americans must take decisive decisions. They must stop Netanyahu before it's too late," said Erekat, attributing the impasse to "Netanyahu's defiance" and calling the Israeli leader a "non-negotiator."
Israeli radio reported that Clinton would meet Netanyahu in Birmingham, England, during a conference of the world's richest nations next week.
In Washington, White House spokesman Barry Toiv said no decision had been made on the meeting, and that Clinton would decide whether to hold it after talking with his advisers.
Last week, Clinton offered to play host to a new round of Mideast talks in which Israelis and Palestinians would wrap up loose ends and start tackling the toughest issues - such as the future of Jerusalem, Jewish settlements, borders and refugees. But the meeting was conditioned on Israel's first approving the U.S. withdrawal plan - which Israel interpreted as an ultimatum.
The daily Maariv reported that Netanyahu accused the Americans of portraying him as an obstacle to peace during a Friday meeting with Ross.
"You want to depict me as the one who is thwarting the peace process, and I'm not prepared to accept that," Netanyahu told Ross, according to Maariv.
"It's impossible for you to invite me to Washington under such conditions. That's public humiliation," said Netanyahu, raising his voice and pounding on his desk.
Bar-Illan, who refused to comment on the Maariv report, blamed the breakdown on a breach of understandings with the United States that Israel would determine the size of the withdrawals and was alone responsible for security.