EREZ CHECKPOINT, Gaza Strip (AP) _ As Israeli and Palestinian negotiators headed into a second day of talks, U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher said today Israel has assured him it would not try to modify peace agreements already signed.
Peace talks resumed Sunday under U.S. auspices, with both sides saying the fragile accords _ nearly wiped out by deadly gun battles between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian police last month _ were worth saving.
Western governments are pressing the two sides to resolve disputes over the long-overdue withdrawal of Israeli troops from the West Bank city of Hebron and other issues that ignited fighting which killed 78 people.
``The peace of the brave, it’s worth all the troubles, all our efforts, not for our generation, but the new generation,″ Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat said today after meeting with the European Union’s representative, Irish Foreign Minister Dick Spring.
Arafat also planned to meet Israeli President Ezer Weizman on Tuesday.
Israeli Foreign Minister David Levy said his government was committed to the accords. ``Israel will advance the peace process and it is the central if not foremost thing in its policy,″ Levy said after meeting with Christopher in Jerusalem today.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was to deliver a key policy address to parliament this afternoon to mark the beginning of its winter session.
However, the opposition Labor Party, which negotiated the peace agreements with the Palestinians, planned to submit a no-confidence motion in the government today.
Labor has blamed Netanyahu’s hard-line policies for much of the recent violence that killed 60 Palestinians, 15 Israeli soldiers and three Egyptian soldiers.
``The 100 days of grace are over,″ said Labor faction leader Raanan Cohen. ``He (Netanyahu) did not even deserve them, a prime minister who has been making all these mistakes, and we are paying with our lives.″
The vote on the motion is expected next week but Netanyahu’s majority in parliament appears in no danger.
The central issue in the Israeli-Palestinian talks is the future of Hebron, the last Palestinian city under Israeli occupation. Israel’s previous government had agreed to pull its troops out of 80 percent of the city of 94,000 Palestinians and 450 Jewish settlers. Soldiers would only remain to guard the settler enclaves.
However, the Netanyahu government has demanded better security arrangements for the settlers. Arafat has said he was willing to discuss some changes in troop deployment, but would not agree to renegotiate the terms of a Hebron pullback.
Christopher appeared to back the Palestinian view. ``The United States places great emphasis on the statements of both the prime minister and the foreign minister that they do not intend to modify or rescind the existing agreements,″ Christopher said today.
On Sunday, with U.S. envoy Dennis Ross sitting in, the sides began their first intensive round of talks since Netanyahu’s May election. That session ended with both sides reiterating their commitment to peace _ but with no substantive agreements.
Netanyahu, a conservative elected in May, was never happy with the Israel-PLO autonomy accords signed in 1993 by the previous government. Palestinians have accused him of dragging his feet on implementing outstanding aspects.
In addition to Hebron, Arafat wants a corridor linking the West Bank and Gaza Strip and hopes to open an airport in Gaza, which the Israelis are resisting. He also wants Israel to close the new entrance to a tourist tunnel near Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem whose opening sparked the recent gun battles.
The negotiators agreed Sunday to set up a special subcommittee on Hebron.
Israel ended its 10-day curfew Sunday on Hebron, pulled its tanks back from some populous areas and restored freedom of movement for Palestinians in Gaza and much of the West Bank.
Today, some 2,000 Palestinian workers were permitted to return to jobs at an industrial park in the northern Gaza Strip, and 700 more were given permits to enter Israel to help with the olive harvest.
However, nearly all 2 million Palestinians still remain barred from entering Israel.