Iraq Woes Crowd Israeli-Palestinian Round Table
Sidelined by the Iraq crisis, Israeli and Palestinian officials held out little hope for a breakthrough Sunday as they prepared for new talks in Washington on their stalled peacemaking efforts.
Negotiators from both sides were to leave today for separate talks with U.S. officials in Washington. In a sign of how much relations have deteriorated, there are no plans for the Israeli and Palestinian teams to meet together while they are in Washington.
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said Sunday that the Palestinians would ask the United States to take an active role in trying to move talks ahead on unresolved issues such as prisoner releases and the opening of a Palestinian seaport and airport.
But Palestinian officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said they are not optimistic that the meetings will produce results because the United States is distracted by the standoff over U.N. weapons inspections in Iraq.
Israeli officials also said they are not expecting much from the meetings, scheduled after a whirlwind visit to the Middle East last week by U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright that also produced little progress.
U.S. officials have said that if the peace process remains stalled, the United States eventually will take the initiative and make its own proposals on how to move forward.
Erekat said any U.S. proposal would have to include a halt to Israeli settlement-building and other activities that “prejudice the results of the permanent settlement.”
David Bar-Illan, a top adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said the Washington meetings will address security cooperation and Israel’s overdue withdrawal from more of the West Bank, as well as unresolved issues such as the airport and seaport.
Netanyahu has said Israel will not go ahead with the West Bank withdrawals until the Palestinians meet a long list of conditions, including doing more to crack down on terrorism.
The Palestinians have rejected a proposed formula under which Israel would turn over 10 percent more of the West Bank to the Palestinians in three phases, conditional on Palestinian actions.
The Palestinians now have full or partial control over 27 percent of the West Bank and have said they want control of more than 90 percent before a final peace settlement with Israel.
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