Israel, Palestinians differ on possibility of new talks

JERUSALEM, May 15 (JTA) — Senior Israeli and Palestinian officials came away from U.S.-brokered discussions this week with starkly different assessments, demonstrating the depth of the crisis in the peace process. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said a basis had been found for continuing talks on reviving the negotiations. However, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, who took part in Wednesday night’s talks, said nothing was resolved and that the gaps between the sides remained wide. The discussions took place at the home of Martin Indyk, the U.S. ambassador to Israel. Erekat said U.S. Middle East envoy Dennis Ross’ shuttle to the region was a failure. Ross was expected to leave the region Friday. Despite the pessimistic outlook, the Palestinians said they were willing to attend a three-way meeting between Israeli, Palestinian and American security officials Friday to discuss security cooperation. Israeli-Palestinian talks and security cooperation broke off in mid- March, when Israel began constructing a Jewish neighborhood at Har Homa in southeastern Jerusalem and a Palestinian suicide bomber attacked a Tel Aviv cafe. The Palestinians have demanded a halt to Israeli settlement activity as a condition for returning to the negotiations. For its part, Israel has demanded that Palestinian security officials resume sharing intelligence with their Israeli counterparts as a condition for resuming the negotiations. Briefing Jewish leaders in New York on Thursday, Israeli Foreign Minister David Levy said a terrorist incident in the absence of such cooperation would be politically disastrous. It would collapse Israeli public trust in the peace process by making it seem that the Palestinians “allowed the terrorist incident to take place.” In his remarks to the Conference of Presidents of Major
American Jewish Organizations, Levy said it was the obligation of the Palestinian Authority to “combat terrorism, eradicate the terrorist infrastructure and speak in peaceful terms and not in terms of jihad.” Levy staunchly defended Israel’s right to build in Jerusalem, though he said such activity was being kept to a “minimum” so as “not to give anyone the excuse to derail” the peace process. His remarks came a day before a scheduled meeting in Washington with U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to discuss the impasse in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Levy is expected to convey to Albright on Friday Israel’s interest in reaching an understanding with the Americans on the parameters for the final-status talks, according to foreign ministry officials. Officials close to the prime minister were quoted by the Israeli daily Ha’aretz as saying that unless such agreement existed, it would be impossible to reach a permanent accord with the Palestinians. Levy also is expected to discuss the issue of foreign aid in his meeting with Albright. The meeting comes amid new revelations that President Clinton may ask Congress to divert tens of millions of dollars to Jordan from Israel’s $3 billion and Egypt’s $2.1 billion annual U.S. foreign aid package. Despite differences between the Clinton administration and the Netanyahu government, most recently over the Har Homa project, Levy told Jewish leaders that Israel would make sure the relationship with the United States would not be undermined. (JTA staff writer Cynthia Mann in New York contributed to this report.)

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