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Israeli Negotiators Return to U.S. with Little Hope of Breakthrough

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The Israeli delegation to the bilateral peace talks flew back to Washington on Sunday, with Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin hitching a ride aboard their air force jet for his official visit to Italy.

Israeli officials were careful to dampen any speculation of a major breakthrough in the eighth round of the peace talks, which was to begin Monday.

The Palestinians, for their part, announced they were sending a symbolically reduced delegation of just four negotiators and two advisers as their way of protesting the lack of progress made so far.

Speaking to reporters before his departure, Rabin expressed confidence that the other Arab delegations would be in the U.S. capital in full strength and that agreement with some, if not all of them, would come during the next year.

This remark in itself appeared to some observers to reinforce the common wisdom that no substantive progress is likely before President-elect Bill Clinton’s team takes over in Washington on Jan. 20. Indeed, Rabin spoke of a “sort of hiatus” pending the Clinton inauguration, though he attributed this view to the Arab side.

Israeli negotiators Elyakim Rublinstein, who heads the talks with Jordan and the Palestinians, and Itamar Rabinovich, who heads the talks with Syria, have both said that as far as they are concerned, the talks should move forward regardless of the U.S. changeover.

Nevertheless, the accepted view here and in Washington is that the talks will naturally mark time pending the new administration’s taking hold of the reins of power.

The Arabs have not concealed their hope and expectation that the Clinton team will exert more direct and intense pressure on Israel than did the Bush administration.

The Israelis, for their part, are encouraged by statements and signals indicating that Clinton will abide by the guidelines originally laid down when this peace process began in Madrid 13 months ago, which themselves were based on the 1978 Camp David accords.

Also heading for Washington on Sunday, though by commercial airliner, was Rabbi Moshe Hirsh, self-proclaimed foreign minister of the anti-Zionist Neturei Karta sect of Mea Shearim.

Hirsh has been in past rounds an accredited member of the Palestinian advisory team under Faisal Husseini and Hanan Ashrawi.

In a pre-departure news release, Hirsh complained that “the Zionist prime minister recently verbally attacked our beloved chairman, Yasir Arafat,” of the Palestine Liberation Organization.

“Mr. Rabin! Be honest,” Hirsh said. “You fear a Palestine state since it would render you” “politically neutered, just as your state neutered the World Zionist Organization.”

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