LONDON (Nov. 30)
Senior Israeli and Palestinian officials have held closed-door meetings outside of London.
The discussions held late last week included key confidants of the leaders on both sides, such as Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s son Omri and Yasser Arafat’s security adviser, Jibril Rajoub.
Omri Sharon, a Likud Knesset member, has served as his father’s envoy in the past.
Though no diplomatic inroads were made during the meetings, the mere fact that they took place was viewed as noteworthy. The meetings took place amid a flurry of diplomatic activity, both official and unofficial, on the Israeli- Palestinian front.
Sharon and Rajoub began the conference by trading accusations, the London-based Arabic newspaper Al Hayat reported.
Sharon said the Palestinians had done nothing to stop terror attacks on Israelis, adding: “Until something is done, we cannot advance.”
Rajoub responded that a cease-fire could not take hold until a number of Israeli operations stopped.
“It is illogical to expect resistance to cease before occupation and settlement activities cease,” he is reported to have said.
Labor lawmaker Ephraim Sneh, a participant in the meetings, told Israel Radio from London that the talks were held, in part, so that “the top echelons of the British government in the defense and political arenas would be able to learn first-hand on the situation between us and the Palestinians and what can be done.”
The British Foreign Office sent representatives to the conference, but Baroness Symons, the minister responsible for the Middle East, was unable to attend.
She canceled at the last minute and was replaced by a senior figure, a Foreign Office spokesman told JTA.
The Foreign Office provided the meeting place but did not sponsor the event.
The meeting was organized by the Labor Friends of Israel lobbying group and the Yigal Allon Educational Trust, and was billed as a Rabin Peace Seminar, named after slain Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.
Sessions included discussions on the role of the international community in promoting a settlement, military threats to stability in the region, and the role economics might play in fostering political rapprochement.
Ya’acov Herzog, a Labor legislator who attended the talks, told the Israeli daily Ma’ariv that “The very fact that political and professional figures from both sides were there is in itself a significant achievement.”
The event came at a busy time for talks aimed at restarting serious negotiations.
The U.S. assistant secretary for Near Eastern affairs, William Burns, was in the Mideast over the weekend, meeting with both Sharon and Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei.
Backers of the unofficial “Geneva accord” were scheduled to sign it Monday in Switzerland.
Sharon has disavowed the accord, which was engineered by out-of-office Israeli politicians and leading Palestinians.
The Israeli prime minister is reported to be planning to meet Qurei, his Palestinian counterpart, soon.