JERUSALEM (Jun. 8)
Israeli and Palestinian negotiators met this week for the first time in nearly three months.
But a last-minute crisis almost threatened to cancel the talks.
Israeli officials said they would not attend the meeting after a spokesman for Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat, Marwan Kanafani, said that Israel had agreed to stop all settlement construction as a precondition to holding Sunday’s talks in Cairo.
Israel delayed the departure of its delegation to Cairo until the Palestinian delegation issued a statement saying that there had been a misunderstanding regarding Kanafani’s remarks and that there had been no agreement regarding Israeli construction projects.
The talks came to a halt in mid-March after Israel began construction of the new Jewish neighborhood of Har Homa in southeastern Jerusalem and after a suicide bomber killed three Israelis at a Tel Aviv cafe.
Officials from both sides said they did not expect a breakthrough from Sunday’s talks.
They said they had agreed to attend the meeting in deference to a recent Egyptian initiative to break the deadlock and resume the peace process.
After Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak met last month, Mubarak’s adviser, Osama Al-Baz, has been shuttling between Netanyahu and Arafat, conveying various proposals for renewing the talks.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Amre Moussa said this weekend that Sunday’s meeting had been called to discuss details of a formula drawn up by the Egyptians to renew the negotiations.
According to news reports, the Egyptian program was based on five points:
Israel would avoid taking unilateral steps in Jerusalem;
Israel would call for a temporary freeze on settlement activity;
the Palestinian Authority would issue a verbal pledge to ensure Israeli security;
Israel would issue a verbal commitment to implement all aspects of the Hebron accord, including the opening of a Palestinian airport and seaport in the Gaza Strip, and the opening of a safe passage route for Palestinians traveling between the West Bank and Gaza; and
both sides would agree to start the final-status negotiations.