JERUSALEM (Dec. 27)
Israel has offered to double the size of the Jericho district that will fall under Palestinian self rule, but its talks with the Palestine Liberation Organization remain deadlocked over a number of security issues.
Following a round of inconclusive talks in Cairo on Monday, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators pledged to continue contacts through the night and resume full-scale negotiations Tuesday.
The respective leaders of the two delegations — Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and PLO negotiator Abu Mazen, also known as Mahmoud Abbas — declined Monday evening to give details of their talks so far. But another PLO official said they were reviewing their positions and had not yet embarked upon active bargaining.
It was Peres and Abu Mazen who signed the historic Palestinian self-rule accord in Washington on Sept. 13.
The Cairo round is the third since the Dec. 13 deadline for the start of implementation of the accord passed without any action being taken.
Israel and the PLO have reached an impasse over security issues that include the question of who will control the borders between the Gaza Strip and Egypt and between the West Bank town of Jericho and Jordan.
Also at issue is the size of the Israeli force that will remain behind to protect settlers in the two regions. A third issue, the size of the Jericho district, is still in dispute as well.
Israel, which originally offered an area of 35 square miles, this week doubled what it was willing to turn over to the Palestinians.
The PLO had originally wanted Jericho to encompass an area of 140 square miles, but last week it reportedly indicated its willingness to settle for an area of 80 square miles.
The two sides met last week in Oslo and then in Paris and the French city of Versailles, but did not resolve their differences.
Abu Mazen’s appearance at the head of the PLO team in Cairo was a cause of encouragement to the Israelis.
He is viewed as the PLO’s second-in-command after Chairman Yasser Arafat. His absence from the negotiations in recent weeks was interpreted as signifying a falling-out between him and Arafat.
PERES HAS STRONG WORDS FOR ARAFAT
Arafat flew to Yemen on Monday, following talks in Cairo the day before with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Foreign Minister Amre Moussa.
Peres had some strong words to say about Arafat before flying off to Cairo, warning that it was up to the PLO chairman to back down from some of his demands.
“I hope very much that Arafat will climb down from his tree, because I am not bringing anything new” to the negotiations, he said in an interview with the daily newspaper Yediot Achronot.
Peres met alone with Moussa before the negotiations with the Palestinians began Monday. Observers said the Egyptians were playing a key mediating role between the two sides.
Moussa told reporters Monday that he regarded the gaps between Israel and the PLO as bridgeable and “not too deep.”
Peres flew to Cairo following a private talk with Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in what was seen as a final review of Israel’s negotiating stance and fallback positions.
Rabin and Peres have repeatedly pledged to make no concessions on anything relating to Israel’s security requirements.
On Sunday, the Israel Cabinet agreed to broaden its original proposal on the Jericho enclave.
Before leaving for Cairo on Monday, Peres helped fight off a no-confidence motion brought by the opposition.
“You’re so clever,” he snapped at Benjamin Netanyahu, leader of the opposition Likud party. “You say we are defeatists and idiots. Well, what do you propose?”
Peres told the Knesset that the negotiations may take “a day or two, or a week or two, or a month or two” — but in the end there would be an agreement that would not jeopardize Israel’s security and that would lead to “a moral and strong state for the Jewish people.”
He said that Israel’s administration of Gaza is not moral, given the conditions in which the populace there lives.
Netanyahu predicted there would be a commission of inquiry set up one day to investigate why the present government had released thousands of Palestinian terrorists from prison and why Israel had agreed to the proposed Palestinian police force.
When the no-confidence vote was taken, 55 Knesset members sided with the government and 44 with the opposition. Two members of the fervently religious Shas party abstained.