WASHINGTON (Feb. 24)
The week of violence along Israel’s border with Lebanon was a major topic of discussion as Israel resumed bilateral negotiations with its Arab neighbors.
Israel brought up the issue in discussions Monday with both Lebanon and Syria, said Yosef Ben-Aharon, head of the Israeli delegation.
Ben-Aharon said Israel reiterated that it has no designs on Lebanese territory and is only concerned about the security of its northern areas.
The Lebanese argued that Israel would not have a security problem if the Israel Defense Force withdrew from its security zone inside southern Lebanon. But Ben-Aharon said the security zone is needed because Lebanon cannot control its own territory.
In the negotiations with Syria, Ben-Aharon said Israel pointed out that Hezbollah, the Shi’ite fundamentalist group responsible for the recent rocket attacks on northern Israel, is based in the Bekaa Valley, which has been under Syrian control for years.
He said the Syrian army could prevent attacks on Israeli troops and settlements.
The Israeli-Syrian negotiations are stalled on the same points as they were when talks broke off last month, said Ben-Aharon, who also heads the Israeli team negotiating with the Syrians.
He said Syria is willing to discuss only its demand for total Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights, while Israel wants to talk about a peace agreement.
‘IDENTIFYING AREAS OF AGREEMENT’
Nevertheless, the discussions Monday with Syria and with the Lebanese and Jordanian delegations were all “businesslike” and dealt with substance, Ben-Aharon said.
The meeting with Jordan dealt with the agenda items to be discussed by the two sides.
Elyakim Rubinstein, who heads the Israeli delegation negotiating with the Jordanians and Palestinians, said that the next few days of talks with Jordan would be spent “identifying areas of agreement, identifying areas of disagreement, which obviously exist, and trying to move ahead to shrink the gaps between our positions.”
Rubinstein met Monday with the chairmen of the Palestinian and Jordanian delegations. Israeli-Palestinian talks were being held late Monday.
This third round of negotiations in Washington is expected to last until the middle of next week. But Ben-Aharon made it clear that Israel wants the next round to be in the Middle East.
“It’s nice to be back in Washington,” he said in opening a briefing Monday.
“But let me remind you that Washington is 6,000 miles away from our part of the world. And we have had to travel this distance again to talk peace with our immediate neighbors.”
Ben-Aharon, who is director general of the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, expressed the hope that the Arabs would agree to move the talks to the Middle East, “where it belongs, so that our people and their people will see that there is a beginning of change.”