JERUSALEM (Apr. 16)
The stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process got a nudge forward this week with the arrival in the region of U.S. Middle East envoy Dennis Ross.
A meeting in Malta between Israeli Foreign Minister David Levy and Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat also sought to boost the moribund process.
The Levy-Arafat meeting was the first high-level contact between Israel and the Palestinians since the Palestinians broke off communications last month. They did so after Israel began building the Jewish neighborhood of Har Homa in southeastern Jerusalem last month.
In the wake of the construction’s start, there were nearly daily Palestinians riots in the West Bank.
Levy told reporters after the meeting that Arafat had announced that Palestinian officials would resume security cooperation with Israel.
But Arafat spokesman Marwan Kanafani said that nothing of substance had been discussed during the meeting, although he acknowledged that it had been conducted in an atmosphere of goodwill.
The meeting took place against the backdrop of the Euro-Mediterranean conference in Malta.
The conference, aimed at boosting trade ties between European and Mediterranean countries, was a follow-up to the Barcelona conference of 1995.
European officials who helped arrange the meeting viewed it as a victory in their pursuit of a greater role in Middle East mediating.
The economic conference closed Wednesday night with a call for negotiations based on the principle of exchanging land for peace.
But the closing resolution did not contain a specific condemnation of Israel – – a condition Jerusalem had insisted on to participate in the conference.
Meanwhile, Ross arrived in the region for a new shuttle mission aimed at breaking the impasse in negotiations.
Ross met Wednesday night with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem and with Arafat in Gaza.
The Prime Minister’s Office said that Netanyahu and Ross had discussed ideas to renew the negotiations, including Netanyahu’s call for accelerating final- status talks.
The Israeli leader also reiterated that for Israel progress in the peace track depended on a halt to terror.
Ross later said he hoped to examine various initiatives during his visit.
“We are obviously trying to find a way to put the peace process back on track. We have to find a way to ensure that violence will not be part of it. And we also have to find a way to ensure that the hopes of each side are ensured,” he told reporters.
On the eve of Ross’s trip, Israel sealed off the West Bank, citing warnings of possible terrorist attacks. Israeli soldiers were told to hitchhike only in armed pairs to prevent their being targeted by Islamic militants.