Israel’s New Foreign Minister to Hold First Talks with Arafat

Foreign Minister David Levy and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat are scheduled to meet Tuesday in what will be the highest-level talks so far between the recently elected government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Palestinian Authority.

The meeting comes on the heels of Netanyahu’s optimistic talks last week in Cairo with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

Both Levy and Arafat are expected to bring a list of demands and complaints to the meeting, which is to take place at the Erez Crossing separating Israel and the Gaza Strip.

In addition to presenting their respective positions, the two leaders are likely to reiterate their mutual commitment to the peace process.

“The main purpose of the talks are to get acquainted,” Levy said Monday night.

Senior Palestinian officials said Arafat would present Levy with conditions he considered essential to continuing the peace process:

full implementation of the Interim Agreement, including the redeployment of Israeli forces in the West Bank town of Hebron;

resumption of the final-status negotiations, which commenced in early May;

a freeze on Jewish settlement expansion in the West Bank and Gaza.

The Levy-Arafat meeting is scheduled to be followed by a regional visit by U.S. Special Middle East Coordinator Dennis Ross.

Ross is expected to arrive Thursday in Israel on a shuttle mission aimed at advancing peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians and Syria.

The head of the Israel Defense Force’s intelligence research branch, Brig. Gen. Ya’acov Amidror, reportedly said this week that Syria would “not continue the peace process with Israel if it thinks it will not get the Golan Heights” as part of any future peace agreement.

In a report submitted to the prime minister that assessed the status of peace negotiations after Israel’s May 29 elections, Amidror said Arab states believed that the vote indicated that there would be a fundamental change in the assumptions previously guiding the peace negotiations.

He wrote that Syria would not return to the negotiating table until it knows in advance that it will get the Golan.

Regarding the Palestinians, Amidror wrote that it is in their interest to continue the negotiations.

He also wrote that Israel’s developing ties with the rest of the Arab world would be contingent upon the continuation of negotiations with Syria and the Palestinians.

The prime minister’s foreign policy adviser, Dore Gold, this week visited the Persian Gulf states of Oman and Qatar to reaffirm the Netanyahu government’s commitment to the peace process.

Earlier this month, Qatar and Oman threatened to halt their ties with Israel if it did not fulfill commitments with the Palestinians signed by the previous Labor government.

NOTE TO EDITORS: The following updates the story sent Sunday on the return to Israel of the bodies of two soldiers held by Hezbollah.

Add after graph #6:

In Beirut, the leader of Hezbollah pledged to help search for four additional Israeli MIAs, but he stressed that the fundamentalist group would not abandon its struggle to drive Israeli troops out of the southern Lebanon security zone.

Sheik Hassan Nasrallah said Hezbollah would make a special effort to locate Ron Arad, the air force captain whose plane was shot down over Lebanon in 1986, though he maintained that Hezbollah had long ago lost track of him.

Add after last graph:

The two were laid to rest Monday. Fink was buried in his hometown of Ra’anana. Alsheikh was buried at the Mount Herzl military cemetery in Jerusalem.

In eulogizing Fink, Netanyahu said all the country was unified in mourning the loss.

“We will not forget that Yosef and Rachamim fell serving their country,” the prime minister said, adding, “Thanks to them, we exist.”

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