The US is hosting a three-way summit with Israel and the Palestinians near Washington on 11 July, two months before a self-imposed Israeli deadline for a peace deal and a Palestinian threat to declare an independent state.

The US decision, following weeks of uncertainty over the next step in the peace process, was announced by President Clinton on 5 July. The summit could be the first of two over the next two months.

US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright visited the region in late June to see if another US-sponsored summit could be arranged, but her public statements suggested conditions for an early meeting were not favourable (MEED 30:6:00).

Israel and the Palestinians were in early July seeking to enlist European support for their positions following a 3 July vote by the PLO’s 129-member mini-parliament supporting Yasser Arafat’s long-standing pledge to declare an independent state after 13 September with or without a peace deal.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak was in London and Paris in early July. Palestinian leader Arafat was also in Paris. Barak said in London that he had pressed UK Prime Minister Tony Blair to discourage Arafat from a unilateral move.

The UK backs an EU statement of 1999 which calls for early establishment of a Palestinian state through negotiations, but with no Israeli veto. French President Chirac is also sympathetic to the Palestinian position.

Israeli Justice Minister Yossi Beilin said on 4 July that a Palestinian state ‘will not be created as long as Israel does not recognise it’.

Middle East analysts say Arafat’s latest moves reflect weakness and frustration.

Arafat ‘is under pressure and doesn’t know what to do as the September deadline approaches’, a senior Palestinian official said on 4 July.

The Palestine Central Council’s vote on 3 July was meant to signal to Israel that his hands are tied, according to Palestinian analysts.

The issues to be discussed at the summit are the most difficult remaining to be settled in the process that started with the Oslo agreement in 1993. They are: the status of Jerusalem; final borders; Israeli settlements; and Palestinian refugees. The two sides are far apart on all these issues.