Palestinian negotiators in U.S.-backed talks with Israel are pushing for a deep Israeli pullback on the West Bank and a freeze on settlement construction there.
But with the talks in their second day, Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said Tuesday there was no progress. He called the two demands “the main indicators where we are headed.”
Erekat spoke during a break in meetings with U.S. mediator Dennis Ross at a government office building in Virginia. The talks were shifted there to keep cameras and reporters at arm’s length.
Today, the Palestinian delegation will be expanded to take up Palestinian requests for an airport in Gaza and a safe corridor slicing across Israel to connect that territory with areas of the West Bank now under Palestinian control.
The Palestinians have the backing of the Clinton administration in insisting on another Israeli pullback and a freeze on settlement building.
The sessions Tuesday were marked by expressions of concern by Israel that its security requires more cooperation from the Palestinian Authority in moving against terrorists.
U.S. State Department spokesman James P. Rubin said, meanwhile, that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat is “working very hard” to shield Israel from terrorist attack.
“A 100 percent effort, however, is something you can only judge over time,” Rubin said.
The Israelis and Palestinians took up a heavy agenda presented to them by Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. It includes a U.S. call for Israel to yield more West Bank territory to Arafat and to stop building homes for Jews there.
In Jerusalem on Tuesday, the Israeli Housing Ministry confirmed that Israel will begin building the first 1,000 homes next year in a new Jewish neighborhood in a disputed part of the city. The announcement prompted government critics there to charge that Israel isn’t serious about reaching an accord in the peace talks in Washington.
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