JERUSALEM (Jul. 11)
American envoy Dennis Ross’ mission to reinvigorate the Middle East peace process has failed so far to bridge the gaps between Israeli and Palestinian positions.
And his attempt to push forward the Israeli-Syrian talks has been sidetracked by the deteriorating security situation in southern Lebanon.
In Jerusalem, Ross found that the gaps between Israel and the Palestinians on the status of Jerusalem and the jurisdiction of a Palestinian autonomy arrangement were too wide to bridge in a joint declaration of principles that the Americans have been trying to hammer out for months.
The top Palestinian negotiators even refused to see Ross for a planned meeting last Friday, in protest against an American draft statement aimed at closing the gaps between the two sides.
Faisal Husseini and Dr. Haidar Abdel-Shafi did not bother to show up at the meeting, saying there was no point discussing documents as long as there was no agreement on Jerusalem and issues of jurisdiction within the autonomy plan.
The Palestinians demand that Arab residents of eastern Jerusalem be given the right to vote and be elected to the governing institutions of any Palestinian self-rule plan. This demand is unacceptable to the Israelis, who regard eastern Jerusalem an integral part of Israel proper.
Local Israeli papers were generally pessimistic on Ross’ mission, given both Palestinian and Israeli insistence on control over Jerusalem.
RABIN LASHES OUT AT SYRIA
The American delegation did meet Friday with Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and senior officials at the Foreign Ministry.
Peres suggested that following an agreement on a joint declaration of principles, the Palestinians would be allowed to implement self-rule in the Gaza Strip and acquire wide-ranging powers in the West Bank.
Peres told the Americans to advise the Palestinians not to insist on a detailed joint document, adding: “Even the length of the Balfour Declaration was only seven lines.”
The Balfour Declaration, issued in 1917 by the British foreign minister, Lord James Balfour, guaranteed the Jews “a national homeland in Palestine.”
Ross’ trip has been overshadowed by a flare-up of violence in southern Lebanon, where five Israeli soldiers were killed during clashes last Thursday and Friday.
Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin lashed out at Syria, blaming Damascus for allowing the Iranian-backed Hezbollah militia and Palestinian guerrilla groups to operate out of the Syrian capital and to transport arms through Syrian-controlled areas of Lebanon.
Rabin asked Ross to inform Syrian President Hafez Assad when the two met in Damascus that Israel could not tolerate stepped-up hostilities against its soldiers in Lebanon.
In a statement issued Saturday, Rabin was quoted as telling Ross during their hour-long session: “We view the incidents (in Lebanon) very gravely. We will do all that is needed to protect Israel’s security and its citizens, as if there were no peace talks.”
Ahmed Jabril’s Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command and the Hezbollah movement are “coordinating their actions and are using weaponry that comes from Iran to Damascus,” Rabin was quoted as saying.
Reports said the prime minister was awaiting a reply from Ross outlining Assad’s reaction to the Israeli warning before Israel would decide on how to respond to the attacks in Lebanon.
In his discussions with Syrian officials Sunday, Ross reportedly was forced to discuss the recent developments in southern Lebanon, rather than devote the talks to the peace process.