JERUSALEM (Mar. 22)
An Israeli team in Tunis has achieved some progress in its efforts to restart the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
The talks were derailed following the murder of at least 29 Muslims by an Israeli settler in Hebron last month.
Since then, the Palestine Liberation Organization has been demanding international protection for the Palestinians, the dismantling of Jewish settlements in Hebron and the disarming of settlers as prerequisites to resuming talks on Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank.
On Tuesday, the Israeli negotiators, headed by army Deputy Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Amnon Shahak, returned home for consultations. They were expected to continue shortly to Cairo, where they would be joined by PLO officials.
Also taking part in the Tunis talks and expected to be in Cairo are Dennis Ross, the United States special envoy, and Norway’s deputy foreign minister, Terje Roed Larsen.
Larsen was actively involved in the secret talks in Oslo that led to the declaration of principles signed by Israel and the PLO last September.
Larsen has presented plans to meet PLO demands for increased security for Palestinians living on the West Bank, particularly in Hebron.
Israel is reportedly prepared to accept an arrangement that would include joint patrols comprising an Israeli, a Palestinian and a foreign observer, with command of each such group being vested in the Israeli officer.
Also acceptable to Israel is a municipal police force in Hebron, again under Israeli control. This latter point has not been accepted by the Palestinians.
Nonetheless, PLO sources in Tunis echoed Israeli optimism Tuesday, suggesting that if all goes well, PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat and Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres would meet in Cairo on Friday.
The same sources said that Israel has agreed to transfer a few dozen families from Hebron to the nearby settlement of Kiryat Arba.