Palestinians react to Netanyahu's Camp David style offer
Palestine-Israel, Politics, 2/24/1998
Palestinians reacted cautiously to the offer made by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to hold a Camp David-style conference with Palestinian President Yasser Arafat until a final status agreement is reached. Palestinian spokesmen said such a conference is not totally ruled out but it should only come after a thorough Israeli implementation of the interim agreement.
Chief negotiator Dr. Saeb Erekat said there will be no talks about the final arrangement before Israel completes the implementation of the interim agreement. Palestine Legislative Council member Ziyad Abu Zayyad confirmed that President Arafat had no objection to the idea of "continuous summit sessions until an agreement is reached between himself and Netanyahu," but said that Arafat stands firmly by his position that any move in this direction should not come at the expense of Israel's implementation of all clauses of the interim agreement.
Abu Zayyad had told Israel television Monday night that he spoke to Arafat shortly after Netanyahu made his offer and heard from him his readiness to attend such a meeting provided the conditions he stated were met in their entirety. ³I phoned Arafat to inform him of Netanyahu¹s proposal and Arafat accepted provided Israel honors its commitments in the transitional agreement," said Abu Zayyad.
Interviewed by the same television channel a while earlier, Netanyahu said that such a meeting could he held in a certain place. "I do not know if it will be held in small houses in Camp David or elsewhere but the leaders must be brave to take decisions and I expect Chairman Arafat to respond to my offer," he said. US officials later reportedly welcomed Netanyahu's offer with a bit of caution saying the US Administration is always ready to meet with both sides of the conflict if such a meeting would activate the stalled peace process between the two sides.
The Secretary General of the Fatah in the West Bank, Marwan Barghouti, said that following the deal in Baghdad, the UN "should have greater involvement in the Palestinian-Israeli peace talk." He added that Palestinian demonstrations in support for Iraq were organized by Fatah in order to serve two objectives. First, he said, was to show that Fatah and the Palestinian government are not the same and that differences can erupt between them. Secondly, he added, the message is directed to Israel in order to show that Fatah is capable of sending people out to the streets to protest against its policies "whenever it is needed."
Palestinians believe that following the agreement that was reached in Baghdad, a new perspective is required from the US Administration with regard to the Arab-Israeli conflict in general and the Palestinian peace talks track in particular. Nabil Abu Rudeineh, special media advisor to Palestinian President Yasser Arafat said on Tuesday that following the agreement signed in Baghdad between Iraqi deputy prime minister Tareq Aziz and UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, time has come for international interest to focus again on the Palestinian-Israeli peace talks.
Speaking hours before Arafat left to Luxembourg to attend a special conference of solidarity with the Palestinian people and their inalienable rights, Abu Rudeineh said the US "is required to review and reconsider its policies in the Middle East in order to achieve a real breakthrough; a fast US initiative is required not only on the Palestinian-Israeli track but also to the whole region."
Reports from Washington have indicated recently that the US Administration is pushing Israel toward carrying out a double-digit withdrawal of its troops from the West Bank in order to ease the present impasse in the peace process. Palestinian chief negotiator Dr. Saeb Erekat and Israeli cabinet secretary Dany Naveh met lately to discuss this possibility but no results were reported.
A meeting was scheduled for Tuesday night at the house of US ambassador to Israel, Ed Walker, but Palestinian expectations prior to the meeting were not high at all. Israeli sources said a decision by US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to either visit the region or invite Palestinian and Israeli negotiators again to Washington depends on the outcome of these contacts at the ambassador's house in Herzliya, north of Tel Aviv.
Israel has so far refrained from setting the scope of its second phase redeployment in the West Bank as prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu offered no more than nine percent of the territories, something strongly rejected by the Palestinian government. The US is asking Israel to enlarge that scope to a considerable percentage of around 13 percent to be carried out over a period of no more than 12 weeks in order to make it easier for the Palestinian leadership to show more flexibility.
Meanwhile, one of Israel's leading dailies reported that in secret talks between the Palestine National Authority and Israel, the possibility of a dramatic change to the original timetable of the Oslo accords is being looked into. Ma'ariv reported on Tuesday that the goal of those contacts "is to try to finalize in some form or another what is left of the interim agreement and after that to declare a time out in which both sides will try to build a relationship of trust, economic, human and social cooperation, and only after that to go to the final status." In a report by its diplomatic correspondent, the paper said the idea came forth recently in talks between national infrastructure minister Ariel Sharon and senior members of the PNA, including Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) and Ahmed Qurei' (Abu Ala.) The paper said Netanyahu was aware of the existence of the talks.
The paper said the move forms a fundamental change in the Israeli position. Netanyahu had been demanding up till now an immediate beginning of final status talks. Now, senior officials in Israel have reached the conclusion that such a course will lead to a breakdown. ³Instead of breaking our heads at this stage over acute issues like Jerusalem, the right of return and security areas, we should first try to build some kind of a relationship and trust between the two sides,² a source close to the talks told the paper. The paper noted that this approach is based on Palestinian and Israeli interests to avoid a US bridging proposal that might come in the form of pressure on either or both sides.
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