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Another Deadline Comes and Goes As Negotiators Meet out of Spotlight

Israel and the Palestinians have opened back-channel talks in an effort to overcome their differences.

Palestinian officials were quoted as saying Sunday that the speaker of the Palestinian legislative council, Ahmed Karia, had traveled to Sweden for talks with Israeli Public Security Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami.

Reports in Israel said that Ben-Ami was accompanied by Israeli attorney Gilad Sher, who is considered a confidant of Prime Minister Ehud Barak.

The reports about the back-channel talks came as Israel and the Palestinians missed another deadline for reaching an outline of a final peace deal. The two sides had agreed earlier this year on a May 13 deadline after missing a similar deadline in February.

As negotiators continue to make little headway, tensions have been increasing in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. For the past week, Palestinian protesters have been clashing with Israeli soldiers during demonstrations aimed at securing the release of Palestinians jailed for security crimes against Israel.

On Sunday, at least 20 Palestinians were injured during the clashes.

In Gaza, hundreds of Palestinians threw stones and gasoline bombs at Israeli soldiers near the Netzarim junction, blocking the entrance road to the Jewish settlement. Similar clashes also took place in the West Bank town of Ramallah.

Sunday’s unrest came as Israeli and Palestinian negotiators met in Jerusalem, but were unable to agree on the prisoner release issue.

At the weekly Cabinet meeting, Barak briefed his ministers about the unrest.

He described the mood on the Palestinian street as “charged and tense.”

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told reporters that the talks were in a crisis that could only be resolved with an additional prisoner release.

Israel’s chief negotiator, Oded Eran, said the talks could only make progress if the Palestinian Authority quelled the current disturbances.

Meanwhile, Barak continued efforts to rally coalition support behind his plan to transfer Abu Dis and two other Arab villages on the outskirts of Jerusalem over to full Palestinian control.

Barak is waiting to hear whether the fervently Orthodox Shas Party will support the proposal. The National Religious Party has already said it will pull out of the coalition if the proposal is approved.

Yisrael Ba’Aliyah, which has said it would oppose the initiative, was expected to make a decision on whether it would take a similar stand.

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