JERUSALEM (Jun. 25)
Barak denies `speculation’ he’s already given land away Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak is denying reports that Israel and the Palestinians have drafted any portion of a final peace agreement.
Barak said Sunday that negotiations with the Palestinians have advanced, but he dismissed the reports as “inaccurate speculation.”
His remarks at the weekly Cabinet meeting came after Interior Minister Natan Sharansky accused Barak of planning to cede parts of Jerusalem and the Jordan Valley to Palestinian control.
Sharansky sent Barak a letter over the weekend threatening to resign if Israel does not change its positions on these matters.
He also protested that Barak was not briefing coalition leaders and that he was left to gather information from “my sources and the media.”
Sharansky, who voted with the opposition in a recent preliminary vote to hold early elections, also urged Barak to reach consensus on Israel’s “red lines” in the negotiations before heading to Washington for a summit meeting.
U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was scheduled to arrive in the Middle East on Tuesday to pursue the possibility of holding a three-way summit soon with Barak, President Clinton and Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat.
She was slated to return a day later to advise Clinton on whether such a summit would be productive.
Days before her arrival in the region, a senior U.S. official told The Associated Press that Albright does not think Israeli and Palestinian leaders are ready for the summit.
Meanwhile, U.S. Middle East envoy Dennis Ross held talks with the chief Israeli and Palestinian negotiators in a bid to narrow the gaps between the two sides before Albright’s arrival.
Sunday’s Cabinet meeting was the first since the Meretz Party pulled out last week, a move that led the fervently Orthodox Shas Party to withdraw its letters of resignation from the government.
Barak is now supported by a minority coalition and maintains his parliamentary majority on support from Meretz and Arab parties.
Regarding the Syrian negotiating track, Barak reiterated Sunday that Israel is ready to resume peace talks with Damascus.
But Barak said he would not back down from demanding that the eastern shore of the Sea of the Galilee remain under Israeli sovereignty.
Barak rebuffed statements made over the weekend by Justice Minister Yossi Beilin, who said Israel should consider giving Syria some access to the Galilee.
Beilin was reacting to a proposal put forward by British journalist Patrick Seale, a confidant of the late Syrian President Hafez Assad.
Under his proposal, the Syrians would have access to the Sea of Galilee for fishing and recreational activities, as well as sovereignty over a northeastern strip of the shore that would remain under U.N. supervision.
Beilin said Assad’s son and heir apparent, Bashar Assad, has not ruled out the proposal as a possible basis for the resumption of negotiations with Israel. Those talks have been frozen since January.
Beilin said the difference between the Israeli and Syrian positions are not vast.
“It is one of those situations in which we appear to have hit a dead end, and then an idea comes up which looks like a bridge,” he said.