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Publisher\Editor Don Canaan

                      Nov. 14, 1996 V4, #207
All the News the Big Guys Missed

Hebron Withdrawal Imminent?

By Al Pessin (VOA-Jerusalem)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has canceled a trip to the United States -- which was to have begun Wednesday night -- to facilitate talks on the future of Hebron, which appear to be nearing a conclusion. Netanyahu's decision came after he met with one of the top aides to Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat.

Netanyahu's office says he decided to stay in Israel "to assist in advancing the negotiations" which an official statement describes as in "sensitive stages." The statement was issued after Netanyahu met with a senior Arafat aide for what the Palestinian official describes as a discussion about the issues and the dangers of further delays.

The talks have dragged on for six weeks, since President Clinton summoned Arafat and Netanyahu to Washington early last month. The president wanted them to reach a quick agreement on Hebron to forestall more violence, such as the deadly riots in the West Bank in September.

One of Netanyahu's spokesman said early Wednesday that he would only cancel his US travel plans if there was significant progress in the talks. There has been no indication of exactly what progress was made.

It appeared there had been a breakthrough in the talks Tuesday night. Netanyahu's spokesman says he agreed to sign a letter formally committing his government to implement remaining aspects of the latest Israeli-Palestinian agreement. But Wednesday, Israel Radio reported that -- in exchange -- Netanyahu wanted a letter from Arafat promising to prosecute Palestinian police officers who fired on Israeli troops in September.

According to the radio report, Netanyahu also wanted Arafat to extradite Palestinians wanted by Israel. And, he is asking a timetable for amending the Palestinian Charter and for dismantling the terrorism cells of militant groups. It is expected to be difficult for Arafat to agree to any of these demands.

Israeli newspapers report that -- if agreement is reached by today -- the Israeli withdrawal from 80 percent of Hebron, promised a year ago and now eight months behind schedule, could be carried out this weekend.

Israel and Arab Businessmen Cuddling

By Laurie Kassman (VOA-Cairo)

Israeli business executives at the Middle East Economic Conference in Cairo say they are being well-treated, in spite of the tensions surrounding the stalled Middle East peace process. Palestinians are urging the business community to make any business deals conditional on peace.

Egyptian businessman Robert Ghattas manufactures medical accessories like intravenous tubes and disposable needle sets. Business is good, but he is looking for other markets in the region. He says it was natural for him to look at the Israeli market. Ghattas says his marketing trips to Israel proved lucrative and mostly free of political overtones.

"It was very friendly, very easy-going. I think both of us had an open mind to the whole situation. We pretty much put political things behind us. It was very much business. And they are very much business-oriented."

Ghattas says he has not met much resistance in his efforts to break into the Israeli market -- either in Israel or Egypt. But he keeps that pretty much to himself -- not to hide it, he says, but just to keep his competition off-guard.

Still, after 17 years of peace between the neighbors, cross-border trade is relatively low. Ghattas and others say it is still hard to openly market Israeli labels in Egypt or Egyptian labels in Israel.

The deputy managing director of Israel's "Poalim Capital Markets & Investment" company, Amnon Mandelbaum, says business cooperation should help break down psychological barriers to peace.

Rafi Bienvenisti is a special adviser to Israel's minister of finance. He says he is looking into the possibility of Egyptian and Israeli banks developing business relations. He says the economic conference is another tool for fostering regional integration.

"The Israelis are looking for cooperation that will use the opportunity of having low-cost labor in neighboring countries, instead of going overseas or going to the Far East for low-cost labor. They can find it here in Egypt and in Jordan and in the Palestinian Authority."

But Palestinians complain they are starting with a disadvantage because Israeli closures of the West Bank and Gaza are crippling their economy and their efforts to lure outside investors.

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