URGENT Arab-Israeli Negotiations Begin
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Mideast peace talks resumed today with progress on the Israeli-Palestinian front but a sharp rebuke from the Syrians about Israeli plans to go home in a few days.
Israel reached a compromise with Jordan and the Palestinians allowing for the negotiations to proceed on a two-track course. The last round of talks in December never got beyond a State Department hallway because of Palestinian insistence on meeting the Israelis separate from the Jordanians.
″I’m very happy to report that the phase of the corridor diplomacy is over,″ Palestinian spokeswoman Hanan Ashrawi said. She said the three delegation leaders had agreed to two separate tracks - one to discuss Israeli- Palestinian issues, the other for Israeli-Jordanian matters.
She said a general meeting of the three delegations would be held periodically to discuss procedural disputes and issues that don’t pertain exclusively to one track or another.
Israel’s talks with Syria resumed where they had left off in December - in hostile deadlock.
″It’s really an exercise in futility,″ Syrian delegation chief Muwaffak Allaf said after the morning meeting at the State Department. ″Every time we come to start a serious round of talks they limit it to two or three days, which is an indication of the importance they give to the peace process.″
Yosef Ben-Aharon, Israel’s chief delegate for the talks with Syria, was equally negative. ″There is a growing degree of frustration during these talks with the Syrians because we’ve been trying again and again to get them to address themselves to the substance.″
Ben-Aharon said his delegation displayed a map used in Syrian schools where Israel doesn’t exist ″and we told them that this is the basic problem, that Syria denies the legitimacy and existence of Israel.″
Aharon said the Israelis still planned to leave on Wednesday and had made clear they wanted the talks to move to the Mideast region. ″We have been languishing here...since last Monday,″ he said, referring to the Arab boycott of the scheduled resumption of the talks last week.
Ashrawi also urged the Israelis to stay beyond Wednesday. ″We cannot accept one side unilaterally dictating″ the length of the negotiations, she said.
The State Department seemed caught in the middle.
″That’s for Israel to decide,″ spokeswoman Margaret D. Tutwiler said.
She said ″we are very pleased″ that the negotiations had been resumed, adding that the Bush administration wished to see the negotiations get to the substance of the Arab-Israeli dispute.
Israeli and Syrian delegations held separate talks, but Israeli-Lebanese negotiations had to be postponed when the chief Lebanese negotiator, Souheil Chammas, took sick, Israeli sources said.
Israel, with apparent support of the Bush administration, had resisted meeting the Palestinians unless they are accompanied by the Jordanians.
The Israeli delegation, which has been here for more than a week waiting to engage the Arabs in negotiations, said it plans to fly home Wednesday night.
Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, speaking at home on Israeli Radio, said: ″Indeed, the time we have for talking is quite little, But if there will be serious response on the side of our discussion partners, progress can be expected - at any rate the beginning of progress.″
Today’s meeting of the chief negotiators - Israel’s Elyakim Rubinstein, Jordan’s Abdul Salam Majali and Palestinian Haidar Abdul Shafi - was designed to determine whether a compromise was possible on the procedural squabble.
The talks were to have begun Tuesday under an arrangement reached before the last round recessed Dec. 18. But the Arabs stalled in protest of Israel’s decision to expel 12 Palestinians suspected of inciting terrorism on the West Bank and in Gaza.
There were no meetings Friday, the Muslim Sabbath, or Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath. Sources who insisted on anonymity said the Arabs declined an Israeli proposal to meet Sunday.
The negotiations with Syria concern Israel’s control of the Golan Heights, which was Syrian territory until the 1967 Six-Day War, and Israel’s quest for recognition in a peace treaty.
The talks with Lebanon deal with Israel’s occupation of a zone inside Lebanon, which Israel and pro-Israel Lebanese militia use as a buffer to prevent attacks on Israeli villages.