Israel-Palestinians meeting in Cairo on again
JERUSALEM (AP) _ After threatening to stay home to protest a reported agreeement to freeze settlement construction, Israel officials left for Cairo on Sunday to meet Palestinians and try to resume Mideast peace talks.
Both Palestinian and Israeli officials denied there was any such agreement to halt construction of Jewish settlements.
One Palestinian official had been quoted in reports broadcast by Israeli radio stations on Sunday as saying that Israel had agreed to a ``pause″ in settlement building.
But Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat and Nabil Abourdeneh, a spokesman for Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat said the Israelis had made no promises.
``I wish they did. They did not,″ Erekat told The Associated Press in Cairo.
The prime minister’s office also said that Israel had made no commitment to the Palestinians. The Israeli team’s departure was delayed for about an hour Sunday afternoon with Israel waited for a denial of the report.
``In the wake of the denial, the Israeli delegation is leaving for Cairo,″ the prime minister’s office said after Erekat made his comments.
Abourdeneh said the Palestinians had received ``no serious offer from the Israeli side. ... Nothing new at all.″
The Cairo meeting is an effort to resume Israel-Palestinian peace talks, which broke off in mid-March when Israel began breaking ground for the 6,500-unit Har Homa housing project in a sector of Jerusalem the Palestinians want as a future capital.
On Saturday, Israeli radio and television reports, quoting unidentified sources, said Israel had agreed to a temporary halt in the construction of Har Homa and Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
Shortly afterward, the Cairo meeting between Israeli Cabinet Secretary Dan Naveh and Erekat was announced.
Ahmed Tibi, an adviser to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, said there was still ``a great gap″ between the two sides.
``There is no agreement that Israel will stop building in Jerusalem at Har Homa or in the settlements,″ Naveh said.
``We are sparing no effort to resume negotiations, but we are standing firm on the principle that we have the full right to strengthen Jerusalem, and there is no change in this government policy.″
Arafat met Friday with top Israeli negotiator Yitzhak Molcho in Ramallah, and Saturday with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo. Egypt has been trying to bring the two sides back to the negotiating table and has urged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to agree to a six-month freeze in settlement construction.
Yizhak Levy, an Israeli legislator from the National Religious Party, one of Netanyahu’s coalition partners, said stopping construction in Jerusalem and the West Bank would bring down the government.
``Our information is that the prime minister does not intend to retreat,″ he said.