WASHINGTON (May. 25)
As confusion surrounding the implementation of the Israeli-Palestinian accord continued back home, visiting Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres met this week with Secretary of State Warren Christopher and Vice President Al Gore to review the Middle East situation.
Prior to his meetings, Peres told a group of Middle East experts and journalists that the implementation of Palestinian self-rule in Gaza and Jericho would be successful.
“This is a period of transition which is full of difficult problems and dangers,” Peres told a symposium sponsored by Middle East Insight magazine. “We can see the hopes, feel the blood and the tears and the suffering.”
But “I don’t have the slightest doubt that this will succeed,” Peres said at Wednesday morning’s event.
Among the problems that have flared up recently are statements made by Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat. In a speech at a Johannesburg mosque this month, Arafat called for a “jihad” for Jerusalem. The Arabic term is generally translated as “holy war.”
He also compared the Israeli-Palestinian accord to an agreement made by the prophet Mohammed with the Koreish tribe in the year 628. That agreement was abrogated by Mohammed two years after it was signed.
Arafat has tried to explain away these statements. But they have raised grave concerns in Israel, and have resulted in Israeli demands -backed by the United States — for Arafat to reaffirm his commitment to the peace accords.
Prior to a meeting with Peres on Wednesday, Christopher told reporters it would be “very helpful to have a reaffirmation” of Arafat’s commitment.
PERES AND CHRISTOPHER DISCUSS TALKS
In their meeting, described as routine, Peres and Christopher discussed the four negotiating tracks between Israel and the Palestinians, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon.
They also discussed the implementation of the Gaza-Jericho agreement, and the multilateral component of the Middle East peace process, a State Department spokesman said.
Peres, at the Middle East Insight event, criticized another recent Arafat decision — to issue an order returning the newly autonomous Palestinian area to pre-1967 laws.
He called the decision “irrelevant, unimportant and unnecessary,” and said that the area should be governed by the joint declaration of principles signed by the two sides.
He said he hoped the Palestinians intended to stick to the declaration.
“If one of the two” parties violates the accord, he said, it will “endanger the agreement.”
The Israeli foreign minister also spent a good deal of Wednesday’s speech talking about the problematic Syrian track in the Middle East peace negotiations, viewed by many as the key to the entire process.
Peres stressed the importance of gestures from Syrian President Hafez Assad, in an era when television diplomacy plays such a key role.
He said that “people are watching and asking: is President Assad really interested in peace?
“Why can’t we see it on television?” he continued. “Why hide it away?”
He also spoke about the perennially controversial issue of Jerusalem, saying that it was a “politically closed” topic.
But he said that the topic was religiously open, and that it was Israel’s responsibility to allow access to the holy places of all religions.
Before meeting with Peres, Christopher gave reporters a sense of the American government’s views about the future of the Middle East peace talks.
The secretary said that some of the talks would eventually resume in Washington, and others in the region, depending on which location seemed most appropriate for that particular track.