Israeli, Palestinian Leaders Struggle for Compromise Before Albright Visit

Israeli and Palestinian negotiators have been hoping that U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright would attend a signing ceremony for a deal on implementing a land-for-security agreement during her trip to the Middle East this week.

But days before the trip, no such document existed.

Prime Minister Ehud Barak said Monday he had spoken by telephone with Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat on the remaining issues holding up the implementation of the Wye accord — and that nothing was resolved.

Barak said after a meeting of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that agreement depends on the Palestinian responses to Israeli proposals.

“As I said at the start seven weeks ago, we will honor every Palestinian decision,” Barak said in remarks broadcast on Israel Radio. “We believe that together we reached a solution which is better than Wye as it was originally drafted. If the Palestinians choose this, we will be on the revised track. If the Palestinians do not, we will implement Wye as it is written.”

The “revised track” involves two key issues: a timetable for further Israeli withdrawals from the West Bank and the release of Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli jails.

On the issue of prisoners, Barak is getting heat not only from the Palestinians, but from his domestic opponents as well.

Ariel Sharon, interim leader of the opposition Likud Party, accused Barak of making concessions to the Palestinians without demanding anything in return.

The Knesset is scheduled to convene in special session Wednesday at Likud’s request to debate what it terms the government’s plan to release Palestinian prisoners “with blood on their hands.”

Barak’s office indicated Sunday that Israel might release Palestinians who had been involved in anti-Israel attacks but were members of groups supporting the peace process, the Associated Press reported.

Israeli and Palestinian negotiating teams were due to hold another round of talks Monday.

Barak said that if he were to implement the Wye accord “to the letter,” it would be a loss for both sides. Political sources added that the Palestinians would not benefit from certain Israeli gestures achieved in the negotiations, including flexibility on the Palestinian prisoner issue, and agreement for the start of construction of the Gaza seaport.

The Egyptians will reportedly preside over a signing ceremony during Albright’s visit if an agreement is reached.

NEXT STORY