Christopher Sees Lebanon Violence As Possible Spur To Peace Talks
ALEXANDRIA, Egypt (AP) _ Secretary of State Warren Christopher held out hope Monday that the bloodshed in southern Lebanon could be used to generate ″a new burst of energy″ for the Mideast peace process.
Christopher’s optimistic view was shared by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak who told a joint news conference that he did not think ″there’s a problem starting the negotiations even after what happened in Lebanon.″
The upbeat assessments came on the first stop of a four-day visit to the Middle East on which Christopher hopes to generate some momentum in the stalled talks.
″The situation in Lebanon, perhaps paradoxically, has itself given a new burst of energy to the negotiations,″ he said. The secretary said he hoped to ″capitalize on the tragic situation in Lebanon to use it to remind the parties how important it is to move forward with the peace talks.″
″Decision time is rapidly approaching,″ said Christopher.
″We don’t expect any breakthroughs on this trip, but we expect steady progress,″ he said.
State Department officials working on the peace process have made it clear they believe the week of violence in southern Lebanon was a setback.
″There clearly has been a souring of the overall atmosphere,″ said one official who briefed reporters on condition he not be identified.
But after his meeting with Mubarak at the president’s summer palace in this Mediterranean coastal city, Christopher chose to see a silver lining.
And Mubarak, leader of the only Arab country that maintains diplomatic relations with Israel, has been a consistent backer of the peace process.
″Negotiations shouldn’t stop,″ said the Egyptian president. ″They should continue because peace is so precious.″ A sterner test of Christopher’s optimism will take place over the next three days when he meets with Israeli government officials, Palestinian negotiators and Syrian leaders.
But the head of the Palestinian negotiating team, Dr. Haidar Abdul-Shafi, said Monday he would not attend his team’s meeting with Christopher and criticized the U.S. response to Israeli attacks in Lebanon.
In a telephone interview in Jerusalem, Adbul-Shafi said, ″This Lebanese war and the American attitude towards Israel make a mockery of speaking about international law and human rights. I am very disappointed.″
In his view, 10 rounds of talks have brought no change in U.S. attitudes toward basic issues like the status of Jerusalem or of Israeli settlements in occupied land.
″After 10 rounds of going nowhere, this peace process lacks integrity and credibility,″ Abdul-Shafi said. ″I hope there will be something new in the American position.″
And in Tunis, Tunisia, the Palestinian Liberation Organization said, ″This is probably his (Christopher’s) last chance to save the peace process.″
A failure by Christopher to bridge the existing gaps would ″lead to a breakdown of the peace process,″ the PLO statement said.
The complex, often frustrating peace process, offers endless opportunities for optimism and pessimism.
The last round of talks in Washington ended in June with no progress and with Palestinians insisting that the status of Jerusalem be on the table. Israel refuses to discuss the status of the city.
In an effort to put off any negotiations on the future of Jerusalem, Israel has indicated a willingness to grant more self government - or empowerment, in the current negotiating parlance - for Palestinians who live on the West Bank and Gaza.
The other principal negotiating front involves the question of the Golan Heights, held by Israel since the 1967 war.
Syria wants the Golan back, and Israel has indicated a willingness to return most of the land, how much depending on Syria’s readiness to sign a peace agreement Israel.
In a recent conciliatory gesture, an Israeli government official described the Golan Heights as occupied territory on which Israel has no permanent claim.