Egypt peace initiative falters as violence spreads in Hebron

JERUSALEM, June 17 (JTA) — Egypt’s efforts to jump-start Israeli- Palestinian negotiations have hit a brick wall. Egypt’s foreign minister warned this week that the gap between Israel and the Palestinians was wide, and hinted that the Egyptian shuttle diplomacy between the sides may stop. Speaking after talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Foreign Minister Amre Moussa said there was no discussion of dispatching presidential envoy Osama Al-Baz to Israel for further consultation with Israeli and Palestinian leaders. But he added that Egypt had not given up efforts to resolve the peace process crisis. “Even if there is no real progress on the issue of Israeli settlements in Palestinian lands, this does not mean we have lost hope,” Moussa said after meeting with Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat in Cairo. For his part, Erekat welcomed the Egyptian mediation effort and blamed the deadlock on Israel. “We support the Egyptian effort to pull the peace process out of the mud,” Erekat told Israel Radio. He said Israel’s settlement policy “continues to shut the door” to resuming negotiations. Talks between Israel and the Palestinians broke down in March after Israel began construction of a new Jewish neighborhood at Har Homa in southeastern Jerusalem and a Palestinian suicide bomber killed three Israelis at a Tel Aviv cafe. A mediation effort launched recently by Al-Baz led to an Israeli- Palestinian meeting last week in Cairo, the first in three months. But the Egyptian envoy’s efforts to arrange a follow-up meeting of Israeli and Palestinian negotiators proved to be futile. Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said this week that negotiating a permanent agreement should be the sole purpose of renewed talks. “If the political negotiations with the Palestinians resume, they will resume with the sole purpose of reaching a final settlement,” Netanyahu told an economic conference. “It cannot be renewed in order to continue step-by-step when you have no idea where this will lead.” Earlier this month, Netanyahu briefed the Inner Security Cabinet on the principles of a final-status accord he envisioned, which reportedly would call for Israel maintaining control over nearly half of the West Bank. Meanwhile, unrest continued Tuesday in the West Bank. At least 19 Palestinians were wounded, two of them seriously, in a fourth consecutive day of clashes with Israeli soldiers in the West Bank town of Hebron. One of the wounded was a 12-year-old boy who was hit by a rubber bullet fired by troops to disperse the rioters. The Israeli army charged that Palestinian police failed to take action to prevent demonstrators from approaching the areas where the Israeli- and Palestinian-controlled parts of the city meet.

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