Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat will ask President Clinton to pressure Israel into speeding up the peace process, when the two meet at the White House Thursday.
According to some reports, Arafat is also seeking confirmation from Clinton that the U.S. will recognize a declaration of Palestinian statehood.
State Department spokesman James Rubin said the Clinton-Arafat meeting, following a private luncheon with Secretary of State Madeleine Albright at her home, would be a "stock-taking session."
"We believe it's very important to talk to Chairman Arafat about his concerns and his assessment of the Israeli-Palestinian track and the importance of making progress on that track if we're going to meet the stated goal of a mid-February 'framework' agreement," Rubin told a news briefing.
The PA is upset at the slow pace of negotiations with Israel as the February 13 deadline for arriving at a "framework" agreement on final status issues nears. The Palestinians are also concerned that the talks are taking a backseat to the Israeli-Syrian track.
But Barak, who has been personally involved in two rounds of talks with Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk Shara in the U.S. since December, also has other concerns at home.
A national teachers' strike has children stranded at home for the fifth day this week and last night the state comptroller - the powerful, independent official watchdog - questioned Barak regarding irregularities in the funding of his 1999 election campaign.
Little progress has been made toward meeting the deadline for a framework agreement, set by Israel and the PA in a memorandum signed in September.
"Final status" talks on Palestinian refugees ended abruptly last week when Israel refused to countenance a PA demand that a large number of Arabs claiming refugee status be allowed to return or compensated.
Prior to that, talks have focused on fulfilling commitments in previous agreements, such as Israeli transfer of disputed territory to the PA and the release of Palestinian prisoners jailed for terror attacks.
"The big issues haven't been discussed," Arafat's spokesman Marwan Kanafani told CNSNews.com.
Those "big issues" include final borders and the nature of a Palestinian entity; whether or not Israel will divide Jerusalem so that it can become the capital of Israel as well as the capital of a future Palestinian state; refugees; the fate of Israeli settlements in Judea, Samaria and Gaza; and the division of precious water sources.
Rubin said arriving at a framework agreement by mid-February presented a "formidable challenge" but that there was still "hope" of meeting that goal.
"It's our view that the parties have some tough decisions to make, and if they don't make those decisions we can't get either a framework agreement or a comprehensive agreement by the fall, as planned, or as set out as a goal," he said.
Kanafani said even though it seemed unrealistic to expect an agreement by February 13, putting back the deadline would depend on Barak's intentions.
"We don't see eye to eye," he said of the PA and the Israelis.
Israeli Cabinet Minister Haim Ramon, a close confidant of Barak, said the government hoped to make the February 13 deadline.
"We say to the Palestinians that we are ready and we want to speed the negotiations and that they will become more intensive and we will make an effort to reach the framework agreement [by] the deadline in mid-February," Ramon said in a radio interview.
But if the agreement was delayed by a few weeks against a backdrop of accelerated talks, Ramon said he believed that it could be "accepted by both sides."
Reaching a framework agreement is only the next hurdle in the race to reach the goal of a final settlement, by September 13, 2000. Negotiators thus have less than nine months to resolve the conflicts that have plagued the two sides for the past 100 years.