Israelis Say Disagreement on Venue May Delay Resumption of Peace Talks

Israeli negotiators are denying that the Israeli elections scheduled for June will slow down the peace negotiations. But they say delays may be caused by disagreements over where the talks should be held.

“It is quite absurd to assume that the functioning of the democratic process will in any way impede the peace process,” said Yossi Gal, chief spokesman for the Israel negotiating team.

“Quite the opposite is very true,” he said. “We believe there is no, and there should not be any, relationship whatsoever between the internal process Israel is going through, which is a healthy sign of democracy, and the peace negotiations.”

But while the elections may not impede progress, Arab refusal to accede to Israel’s insistence that the talks be held closer to the Middle East could stall the resumption of the negotiations after they adjourn Wednesday night.

Gal said Monday that only Israel has replied to a U.S. request that each party to the negotiations present a list of 10 possible sites. If a site appears on all the lists, then the United States as the “honest broker” will select that location for the continuation of talks, Gal said.

The venue situation was discussed when the chairmen of Israel’s three negotiating teams met Monday with Edward Djerejian, assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs.

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Meanwhile, Gal complained that the Palestinians have made public a three-page document rejecting Israel’s proposal for Palestinian self-government in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The Palestinians also released the 10-page Israeli proposal.

“I would like to believe that this impropriety on their part was simply the result of inexperience and not maliciousness,” Gal said.

But he added that on the good side, the release of the documents showed how “forthcoming” were the proposals made by Israel.

Gal reported some progress in the negotiations with Jordan. Both sides have exchanged their versions of a common agenda and hope to begin specific talks soon.

The talks with Syria appear to have become a case of dueling histories.

Syria has been giving Israel its version of the cause of the 1967 Six-Day War and its interpretation of Resolution 242, which the U.N. Security Council adopted after the war, Gal said.

He said Israel gave its version Monday. Gal would not detail it, but Israel has often made clear that it must hold on to the Golan Heights because the area was used to shell Israeli settlements in Galilee at will before 1967.

Meanwhile, the White House announced that President Bush will meet with King Hussein of Jordan on March 11. It will be the first face-to-face meeting between the two since they met in Kennebunkport, Maine, in August 1990, shortly after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.

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