Promise In Peace Talks Brings Envoy From Airport
In a sudden turnaround, a U.S. envoy who had announced that he planned to leave the Middle East decided instead to delay his departure and resumed brokering peace talks into the early hours Tuesday.
Both Israeli and Palestinian officials said progress in the delicate discussions about an Israeli redeployment from the West Bank town of Hebron brought U.S. peace envoy Dennis Ross back from the airport to sit down again at the negotiating table.
But there were conflicting reports late Tuesday on whether the two sides were close to reaching an accord on Hebron, the last and most sensitive of seven West Bank cities due to be turned over to Palestinian control under a 1995 agreement.
“It’s close to an end. It’s not yet finished,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told reporters Tuesday. “I hope it will end quickly.”
A top Palestinian official, however, described Tuesday’s progress as limited. “I would agree there’s been some movement but I think there’s also some exaggeration there,” said Marwan Kanafani, an adviser to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
U.S. officials said Ross was en route to the airport shortly before midnight Monday when he took a call on his cellular telephone that progress had been made by the joint committee discussing civilian issues, the planning and zoning rules that will be put in place once the Israelis complete a partial withdrawal from the city.
He was sent to the region by President Clinton after a recent upsurge in violence claimed more than 75 lives and left hundreds of other people injured.
Israeli and U.S. officials said the negotiations had produced a draft agreement on the civil issues, which the two leaders and their aides were said to be examining Tuesday night.
A parallel round of discussions on security issues appeared to be on rockier terrain. Palestinian negotiators walked out at one point, with one official reportedly describing the attitude of Israeli delegates as that of “occupiers toward the occupied.”
Israeli officials said the Palestinians seemed to be stalling, hoping to put off an overall agreement on Hebron until after the U.S. presidential elections, apparently in the belief that more pressure might then be brought to bear on Israel.
The need for progress in the peace talks was underscored on the West Bank with reports of violence Tuesday. Witnesses said Israeli troops shot and killed a Palestinian teenager as he stoned them in a village near the city of Ramallah. The army said it was investigating the incident.