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Peace Talks Enter Second Week with Israelis Less Optimistic

As the Arab-Israeli peace talks here began their second week Monday, the optimism that Israeli negotiators had voiced last week seemed to fade.

Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli spokesman, said the Arab delegations, led by the Palestinians, were injecting “talk-busters” aimed at thwarting direct negotiations, in the hope that the United States would intervene on their side.

“The Arabs have come to Washington to negotiate with the United States and not to make peace with Israel,” said Netanyahu.

While the Israelis maintained last week that progress had been made because the Syrian delegation had agreed to deal with substantive issues, Netanyahu said Syria flatly refused Monday to accept the legitimacy of Israel or to discuss the treatment of Jews in Syria.

Yosef Ben-Aharon, chairman of the Israeli delegation in the Syrian talks, said after Monday’s round that he asked the Syrians if Damascus is “willing to accept Israel’s right to exist as an entity, equal in status to that of all the other states in the Middle East.”

“We did not get a response,” he said.

As for the talks involving Israel, Jordan and the Palestinians, the delegates remained stuck in the State Department corridor, unable still to agree on the Palestinian demand to have talks with Israel separate from Jordan.

Netanyahu said the Palestinians want the United States to break the deadlock.

Hanan Ashrawi, the Palestinian delegation’s spokeswoman, did not directly call for U.S. intervention Monday. But she said it was the “duty” of the United States to act at a critical stage.

VENUE OF NEXT ROUND IN DOUBT

Edward Djerejian, U.S. assistant secretary of state for Near East and South Asian affairs, met separately with Israelis and Palestinians over the weekend in an attempt to break the deadlock.

But Netanyahu said the Palestinians continued to want to move the “goal post,” since it had been agreed earlier that they would negotiate with Israel as part of a delegation with Jordan.

Ashrawi said that the Palestinians proposed that the heads of the Israeli, Jordanian, and Palestinian delegations meet in a conference room and then the talks split into Israeli-Palestinian and Israel-Jordanian negotiations.

Israel wants negotiations to be held with the joint delegation, which could later divide into subcommittees to discuss specific issues.

The Israeli-Lebanese talks seem to be the only ones on track at the moment, with the Israeli delegates reporting that an effort is being made to narrow the gaps between them.

But Netanyahu made it clear Monday that no matter what happens this week, the Israeli delegation plans to return home by the end of the week and expects the next round of talks to be held closer to the Middle East.

Ashrawi said that the Palestinians would like to stay in Washington until something is accomplished. “You may see the world, but you certainly won’t get anything done in the way of negotiations” if the venue is changed, she said.

But she added that if the talks did move out of Washington, the Palestinians would prefer a “neutral venue,” such as a European city.

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