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Weizman, Arafat to discuss how to break impasse in peace talks

JERUSALEM, May 4 (JTA) — With Israeli-Palestinian negotiations frozen since March, there were indications this week that some progress may be made in the coming days. Israeli President Ezer Weizman and Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat were scheduled to meet Tuesday in an effort to find ways to break the stalemated Israeli-Palestinian peace process. The meeting came days before a planned shuttle mission to the region by U.S. Middle East envoy Dennis Ross. In addition, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was considering a number of confidence-building gestures aimed at restarting negotiations. Foreign Minister David Levy said Sunday that the Weizman-Arafat meeting was arranged in full coordination with the prime minister and himself. This is not the first time the president has directly intervened in an effort to break a deadlock in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. The first Netanyahu-Arafat summit last summer was precipitated by Weizman’s informing the prime minister that he intended to meet with Arafat. Israeli officials said the purpose of this week’s Weizman-Arafat meeting would be to defuse tensions between Israel and the self-rule authority and to seek ways to renew security cooperation between the two sides. Negotiations and security coordination hit a standstill in March, after Israel began construction of Har Homa in southeastern Jerusalem and after a Palestinian suicide bomber detonated an explosion March 21 at a Tel Aviv cafe, killing three Israelis and wounding 47 others. Netanyahu has categorically rejected any suggestion that Israel halt building of the new Jewish neighborhood in order to restart the negotiations. But in recent days, the Palestinians have indicated that they may drop their demand for the suspension of the Har Homa project as a condition for resuming negotiations. “No doubt all the sides are deeply concerned about the impasse in the negotiations,” Arafat adviser Dr. Ahmed Tibi, who helped finalize the Weizman-Arafat meeting with Israeli officials, told Israel Radio on Sunday. “I hope that in the meeting ideas will be raised which will break this crisis,” he added. After Ross’ previous visit to the region in mid-April, there was little discernible progress between Israel and the Palestinians. At that time, American officials called on Israel to offer a number of confidence-building gestures to the Palestinians. Netanyahu held consultations last Friday to discuss such gestures, including a plan to launch housing projects for Arabs living in Jerusalem. He also discussed a proposal to amend the law regarding the status of Jerusalem Arabs who received permanent residence there after 1967. Under the proposed change, Arabs who move to the West Bank or abroad would not lose their rights as permanent residents, as has been the practice. In another development Sunday, the Israel Defense Force lifted a closure imposed on the West Bank village of Tsurif after the March suicide bombing in Tel Aviv. The village was home to members of a Hamas terrorist cell that was responsible for the bombing and other attacks on Israelis during the past two years.