New Wye Agreement May Be Signed Saturday

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:07 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - Israel and the Palestinian Authority appear to be edging toward agreement on a "new" Wye River Memorandum, with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak saying that an Israeli security and logistics team has been dispatched to prepare for a signing ceremony.

A statement from the Prime Minister's office said that there is "hope" that the negotiating efforts of US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and her team would "bear fruit," and that the "parties will possibly reach an agreement by (Saturday)."

But Barak emphasized that it was not "completely and unreservedly clear" that the Palestinians were ready to accept the proposal for a new peace accord.

Israeli Foreign Minister David Levy stressed how close an agreement was after his meeting with Albright, who met earlier with PA Chairman Yasser Arafat in an attempt to move the talks forward.

"We are actually very close to reaching, concluding the agreement between the two sides," Levy told reporters at a press conference.

The widely reported speculation that Israel and the Palestinians would sign an agreement in Egypt on Thursday proved premature, due to a last minute stand-off between Israel and the Palestinians on a few remaining details of the agreement.

Israeli and Palestinian negotiators, renegotiating the Wye River Memorandum signed last year in the US, reached an impasse over the issue of the release of security prisoners. Israel refused to free Palestinians prisoners who had murdered Israelis or who rejected talks with Israel, calculating that about 350 Palestinians prisoners could be released.

The Palestinians had demanded the release of some 400 prisoners, but reportedly are now closer to agreeing with the Israeli figure after Albright and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak intervened.

Levy stressed that Israel had always fully intended to implement the Wye accord. "It was never in doubt that Israel would implement the agreement.... We are responsible and we intend to implement them to the end," he said at a press conference.

Calling the Wye Agreement a "a step forward," toward peace in the region, he also expressed optimism about reaching what he called "an improved Wye Agreement."

Barak, Levy and Albright met for more than three hours after the secretary of state arrived from Egypt at 11:30 p.m. last night. Albright called those meetings "excellent" and said "we are hopeful that this agreement will be concluded and we will be able to really move forward in the comprehensive peace process."

That comprehensive peace deal will have to include an agreement on such thorny issues as the status of Jerusalem, Palestinian refugees, final land settlements and Palestinian statehood.

The architects of the Oslo Accords constructed them so that the toughest issues would remain until the end, when they believed, trust would have been built between the two sides.

Continuing her shuttle diplomacy, Albright is due to fly to Damascus Saturday to meet with Syrian President Hafez Assad, saying she would "assess the situation, their (the Syrians) willingness to move forward."