Israel will not return to the negotiations with the Palestine Liberation Organization for the time being.
The decision emerged here Monday night after a private and lengthy meeting between Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres.
It followed a weekend of intensive consultations within the government, and between Israel and Egypt, which acted as mediator between Israel and the PLO during the talks last week in Cairo.
Peres acknowledged Monday that there was a “sort of crisis” in the autonomy talks with the PLO, but said he believed it could be overcome.
Peres made the comment to members of the national executive of the Canadian Jewish Congress, the representative body of the Canadian Jewish community.
Israel first announced on Sunday that it would not attend another round of talks on Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and West Bank town of Jericho unless the PLO adhered to the draft agreement reached last week in Cairo.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Mike McCurry attempted to play down the impasse in the Israeli-PLO negotiations.
“I would say that as these negotiations address tough issues, we should remember that they are, in fact, negotiating,” McCurry said during his briefing to reporters Monday.
“You’re watching two sides in an ongoing negotiation stake our positions and discuss things in the context of their own dialogue,” he said.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Amre Moussa, who was visiting Jordan on Monday, refused to be discouraged by the deadlock in the Israeli-PLO negotiations.
He predicted that the talks would resume soon at the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Taba.
In the Gaza Strip meanwhile, violence flared Monday evening, when three young Palestinians were shot dead in separate incidents by Israeli soldiers.
And in the West Bank, Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu, retracting a past promise, told Jewish settlers Monday that any future government led by Likud would not be bound by the Palestinian self-rule accord signed by Israel and the PLO in September.
“The agreements are not binding on me, nor on any government that may rise under my leadership,” Netanyahu said while visiting the Jordan Valley settlement of Na’ama.
He said that the PLO had already violated the accord by backing off its earlier promises to stop terrorist attacks on Israelis and to evoke clauses in the Palestine National Covenant that call for the destruction of Israel.
“Because the PLO has not done these things, it has already canceled the agreement,” Netanyahu told reporters. He added that the PLO’s refusal to honor its promises nullified his own past promises to honor any agreements reached by the Rabin government.
The Israeli-PLO negotiations have ground to a halt, with Israel angrily accusing PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat of backing away from agreements reached during last week’s Cairo talks.
The Palestinians, however, contend that there never was an agreement, only an Israeli position paper. This version was endorsed Monday by Moussa of Egypt.
The Israeli Cabinet, however, remained united behind Rabin’s position that there can be no continuation of the talks as long as the PLO rejects what it accepted orally last week.
Arafat, in an angry radio interview over the weekend, reiterated his insistence that the Palestinians will not be consigned to “a ghetto,” which he said would be the result of the implementation of the Israeli position.
The agreement that Israeli officials say emerged from last week’s talks reportedly provided an elaborate system for a Palestinian as well as well as Israeli presence at the borders between Gaza and Egypt and between Jericho and Jordan.
Israel had previously demanded sole control over the border crossings.
The agreement reached last week reportedly also called for the Jericho area to encompass an area of some 25 square miles, more than doubling the previous Israeli offer of 100 square miles.
Control over the borders at Gaza and Jericho, along with the size of the Jericho enclave that would fall under Palestinian self-rule, were among the issues that had deadlocked the Israeli-PLO negotiations.
Most Israeli ministers still share Moussa’s view that somehow, soon, the negotiators will find a way through the impasse and that the talks will draw to a successful conclusion, allowing implementation of the self-rule accord to begin.
But there is now less optimism following the collapse of last week’s negotiations.
“Let Arafat sweat,” Rabin was quoted as saying during one of the consultations Sunday.
But observers are saying that Rabin, too, is inevitably growing more uncomfortable as the days pass and the negotiations remain stalled.
In his remarks to the Canadian Jewish Congress delegation Monday, Peres blamed the stalemate in the talks on the Palestinians, whom he accused of attempting to grab up more than had initially been agreed upon.
The foreign minister told the group of about 40 that implementation of the agreement with the PLO is “extremely difficult because it is unprecedented,” and because “the PLO would like to have more than what is written in the declaration of principles.”
They “would like to bring autonomy to the level of an independent state, which we (will) never agree to, for the time being,” he said.
He said Israel and the PLO had reached an agreement in Cairo but that the PLO subsequently balked at the terms, claiming that Israel had agreed to things that were not on the agenda.
Peres said that future negotiations were based on agreements already reached in Cairo, “there was no reason to meet.”
“We cannot negotiate on negotiations,” he said.
Peres meanwhile said he believed it was appropriate for Diaspora Jews to voice their opinions and arguments about Israeli government policy, but that he would ultimately like to see Jews unify behind the government.
The foreign minister said he was not certain whether Syrian President Hafez Assad was prepared to offer any new positions or declarations during his upcoming meeting with president Clinton, scheduled for Jan. 16.
But he disputed the notion that Syria was “the key” to power in the Middle East. Syria is important, he said, “but even if Syria doesn’t change, the world is changing.”
During the meeting, CJC President Irving Abella said that when the Palestinian self-rule accord was signed in September, there was among Canadian Jews “an exhilarating sense of the possible.”
Now, he said, “the exhilarating is gone, but the possible remains. Hard realism has set in.”
“It is increasingly clear,” he said, that “there is a sense of hope, but that it’s dissipating quickly, and something will have to be done soon before a disintegration of the process” sets in.