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Arabs and Israelis Achieve Little Progress in Peace Talks

December 12, 1991

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Israeli and Syrian negotiators remain deadlocked on the issue of trading land for peace, while a Palestinian official said today his delegation was ″slowly inching″ toward agreement with Israelis on how to formally begin their sessions.

Syrians and Israelis negotiators met for a third day on the land-for-peace problem today and agreed to meet again Monday. The heads of the Israeli and Jordanian-Palestinian delegations exchanged new proposals as they resumed meeting on a couch in a State Department corridor.

After a four-hour morning session, Jordanian delegation leader Abdul Salam Majali said, ″I think we made some progress and the gap is smaller and we are hoping to meet this afternoon at 4 o’clock to have a final status.″

Yosef Ben-Aharon, head of the Israeli delegation negotiating with the Syrians, called today’s session ″fascinating talks,″ and said they would meet again Monday.

″That means both sides think there’s something to talk about,″ Ben-Aharon said.

Syrian delegate Muwaffak Allaf, however, reported no progess and said the Israelis indicated they ″do not intend to withdraw from the territories″ taken from Syrian control in the 1967 Six Day war.

The Palestinians are seeking talks separate from the Jordanians as part of a campaign to assert independence.

The Arab parties want the United States to intervene and resolve the conflict over Palestinian representation. State Department spokeswoman Margaret Tutwiler said Wednesday that U.S. officials are not participating in the corridor talks, but ″the U.S. has had some suggestions.″ She gave no details.

In one positive development, Israeli delegation leaders - citing the fact that negotiations were continuing on all fronts - apparently decided to stay in Washington for the time being. Previously, they had tentatively planned to leave Thursday night.

Israeli foreign minister David Levy is planning a visit to the United Nations in coming days, Israeli officials said, and he might decide to stop in Washington.

Israeli and Jordanian-Palestinian delegates exchanged a series of proposals aimed at breaking the hallway impasse over the format of their formal negotiations. One Palestinian official close to the delegation said there was small progress.

″Our latest proposals have to do with bridging a small remaining gap. We are very slowly inching toward each other,″ said the Palestinian official, who insisted on anonymity. ″The latest proposal is that we all agree on the need for meetings with all three of us to discuss procedural and other matter and also for separate Palestinian and Jordanian tracks to discuss certain issues.

″What we call the three-side meetings and the two tracks is what we are disagreeing on right now,″ the Palestinian official said.

An Israeli official today said Israel had made a proposal to break the deadlock by launching immediate and simultaneous negotiations along two fronts: one with a joint Jordanian-Palestinian team and another with a separate Palestinian delegation. The official spoke on condition of anonymity.

As always with the Mideast peace process, semantics make all the difference. How much prominence to give the tripartite delegation and what to call it are today’s struggle.

The Palestinians want to call it a ″tripartite technical committee.″ They along with the Jordanians agree to create this committee as long as it discusses procedural issues and meets only as necessary. They also want a parallel two-track approach with separate Palestinian and Jordanian delegations meeting with Israeli negotiators.

According to the Palestinian official, the Israelis want a permanent joint Jordanian-Palestinian plenary committee which meets with the Israeli team. Sub-committees divided by subject can then be created from the main committee.

″We may be able to end the deadlock, but Israel so far is pulling back from anything we offer,″ he said.

The Israelis view the issue differently.

″We submitted fair, repeat fair, proposals,″ said Elyakim Rubinstein, chairman of the Israeli delegation. ″It’s a pity we are wasting time.″

Rubinstein has indicated the issue is further complicated by divisions among the Palestinian delegation on how to handle the issue, a claim the Palestinians deny.

The peace talks are supposed to decide the fate of the territories Israel occupied following the 1967 Mideast war and self-rule for 1.7 million Palestinians.

But the parties are still wrangling over procedural items and have barely touched on substantive issues.

The Syrian and Israeli delegations reported a deadlock during discussions. Syria hinted that it may not stay here much longer.

″If we have no hopes for results we shall not stay,″ Allaf, the chief Syrian negotiator, said. ″We still hope that maybe, at a certain moment, the other party would realize that its real interest is to try seriously to talk peace and not insist on keeping territories occupied by war.″

Syria wants Israel to return the Golan Heights and other territories, but Israel refuses to discuss the issue of land for peace.

Ben-Aharon, the head of the Israeli delegation for the Syria talks, accused the Syrians of being ″locked into a rigid position with emphasis exclusively on the issue of territory.″ He said the Syrians refused ″to engage in a discussion of the elements of peace.″

However, Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s chief spokesman, said the talks were ″not without promise.″ He said that on Wednesday, ″the edge was taken off the frost ... there was a cracking of smiles.″

The only slight progress achieved in the U.S.-sponsored Mideast peace talks has been in meetings between Israeli and Lebanese delegations. ″We are progressing bit by bit,″ said Uri Lubrani of the Israeli team.

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