JERUSALEM (Jan. 31)
Israel and the Palestinians have agreed to delay a decision regarding Jerusalem’s Temple Mount for five years, according to the Israeli daily Ma’ariv. The paper on Wednesday published purported details of what was achieved during a week of peace talks at the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Taba. The talks ended without agreement Saturday night, but with optimistic words from both sides that a final deal was in sight.
Citing a senior Israeli political source, the paper said negotiators also had agreed on several other issues:
Allowing an Israeli military presence in the Jordan Valley for six years;
Building a Palestinian city in the Negev; and
Allowing Palestinian refugees the right to return to a future Palestinian state, not to Israel.
Israeli negotiator Gilead Sher, a top aide to the prime minister, confirmed some of the information in the Ma’ariv report, but added that some of the proposals had been raised and later dropped.
Meanwhile, Palestinian officials denied that they had agreed to delay a decision regarding the Temple Mount, or that they had agreed to temper their demands for the refugees’ right of return.
According to The Associated Press, Palestinian officials said Israel had proposed transferring control of the Temple Mount to Islamic countries for a five-year trial period.
According to one report, if no agreement on the future disposition of the Temple Mount was reached during those five years, control would be given to the Palestinian Authority in line with proposals made by President Clinton.
The Ma’ariv report said the purpose of the Taba talks was to bring the two sides close enough to an agreement so that Barak and Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat could make a public declaration of a final accord at a future summit meeting.
Barak this week announced a suspension of political contacts with the Palestinians until after Israel’s Feb. 6 election for prime minister, but Israeli media reported that the situation changed after Arafat sounded a somewhat conciliatory note during an interview Monday night on Israeli television.
“We are looking to achieve real peace between the two peoples,” said Arafat, who only a day earlier had launched a blistering attack on Israel at an international economic forum in Davos, Switzerland.
Arafat also asserted at Davos that Israel uses weapons against the Palestinians that contain depleted uranium, a charge he repeated during the interview with Israeli television.
The Israel Defense Force strongly denied the charge, but a Palestinian Authority Cabinet minister called on Tuesday for an international commission to investigate.7
After much back-and-forth, Israeli officials said Tuesday that efforts indeed were under way to arrange a Barak-Arafat summit before the election, possibly over the weekend in Egypt.
A day later, however, Palestinian officials denied that such efforts were taking place.