Israelis, Palestinians Put Talks on Hold and Launch War of Words
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Israelis, Palestinians Put Talks on Hold and Launch War of Words

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Israeli and Palestinian leaders are publicly criticizing one another after peace talks ended in disagreement with no new date set for them to reconvene.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak on Monday criticized the Palestinians’ “rigid” rejection of his proposal to delay a troop withdrawal Israel promised under the Wye accord and link it to a final Israeli-Palestinian settlement.

Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat said Barak’s proposal is “an attempt to avoid the accurate and honest implementation of what has been agreed upon.”

Barak has repeatedly stressed that Israel would not change the U.S.-brokered land-for-security deal without Arafat’s approval. He indicated Sunday he would be willing to carry out the second of three Israeli withdrawals from portions of the West Bank by October.

But Palestinian officials rejected that offer, saying they want the withdrawal to take place within three weeks.

The first Israeli withdrawal agreed to under last October’s Wye accord was carried out last November. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu then suspended the agreement, charging that the Palestinian Authority was not living up to its part of the deal.

It is third withdrawal that is the major problem for Barak, who has said it could leave Jewish settlements isolated within areas under Palestinian control.

He prefers moving directly into the final-status talks, when such issues as the settlements and the borders of the Palestinian entity would be resolved.

Arafat, fearing that he has few chips to bargain with in the final-status talks, prefers to have the Wye withdrawals take place first.

Sunday’s talks, headed by Israeli lawyer Gilad Sher and chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, ended with the two sides unable to overcome disputes not only on Wye, but also about the basic approach to the negotiations.

Palestinian officials — in a sharp departure from the praise that greeted Barak’s election in May — are now talking about a crisis in peacemaking efforts.

This comments brought a sharp rebuke from Israeli Foreign Minister David Levy, who said Monday he was “shocked” by the picture being painted by the Palestinians.

Both sides should return to the attitude held a month ago, when they “spoke of trust-building and good faith,” Levy told Israel Radio.

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