Jerusalem (Nov. 2)
Palestinian negotiators have suspended the autonomy implementation talks in Taba to protest Israel’s position on the withdrawal of its troops from the Gaza Strip.
The talks, which began Oct. 13, when the self-rule accord Israel signed with the Palestine Liberation Organization went into effect, had entered their fourth round this week.
But the talks in the Sinai border town were suspended Tuesday by the Palestinians. They rejected Israel’s proposed troop withdrawals from Gaza as falling far short of their expectations.
Israeli officials said that they were not surprised by the suspension and that they expected the talks to resume next week after both delegations consulted with their respective leaders.
The latest round of talks on implementing Palestinian self-rule in Gaza and the West Bank town of Jericho had begun Monday on an upbeat and businesslike note.
But by Tuesday, serious disputes arose after maps were presented illustrating Israel’s plans to withdraw its forces form Gaza City and redeploy them in Jewish settlements within the Gaza Strip to protect the settlers living there.
“We are in difficult matters,” said Nabil Sha’ath, the chief PLO negotiator at Taba. “The difficulty emanates from what we feel is the Israelis’ misinterpretation of the idea of withdrawal.
“The (self-rule) agreement provided for withdrawal by the Israeli forces from the Gaza Strip and the Jericho area, and not within the Gaza Strip and the Jericho area, and not within the Gaza Strip and the Jericho area,” Sha’ath said.
“The plan in our mind falls far short of the declaration of principles (governing the agreement) and, therefore, we are suspending the meetings in Taba today to go back to our leadership,” he said.
The Palestinians also rejected Israeli plans to have military access to roads within Gaza.
The Israeli negotiators maintained that the redeployment was necessary for the protection of Israeli settlers living in Gaza and for the external security of the region.
They also argued that the redeployment was consistent with the declaration of principles that forms the backbone of the self-rule accord.
NO ‘REAL CRISIS’ AT MOMENT
But the Israelis appeared to play down the disputes and to highlight the progress that had been achieved in other committees meeting in Taba.
They cited as an example the group that has responsibility for discussing the transfer of civil authority to the Palestinians, scheduled under the terms of the accord to begin Dec. 13.
“I believe the atmosphere is such that we can reach an advancement,” Ami Gluska, spokesman for the Israeli delegation, told Israel Television. “I don’t expect we’ll solve all the problems immediately, but I don’t see any real crisis at the moment.”
Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin conceded that the negotiations had reached a difficult juncture, but said that he was not alarmed by the suspension.
He said patience was needed, adding that he was confident the problems would be overcome.
But Rabin also stressed that Israel would not compromise on security issues, even at the risk of provoking a diplomatic crisis with the Palestinians.