Israeli-Palestinian London meetings may bear no fruits
Palestine-Israel, Politics, 4/21/1998
No major breakthrough can be expected from the early May meetings in London as long as the Israeli government has no intention to move forward on the peace process, said Palestinian sources summing up the latest tour in the region of British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
The sources stated that as far as the Palestinian government is concerned, the meetings between President Yasser Arafat and his British guest were conducted in a friendly and warm atmosphere, "but all in all we can say the visit had failed to achieve the hoped for breakthrough."
Palestinian Minister of International Cooperation Nabil Shaath said the meetings in London could end up being in vain if the US, Britain and the European Union fail to obtain from the Israeli government a clear-cut commitment that it will move ahead with the peace process.
Israel, said Shaath, should implement all the pending clauses of the interim agreements between the PLO and Israel before any step is made to resume final status talks. "We have no preconditions for taking part in the meetings in London, but we would like to see that there are positive results that can come out of those meetings," said Shaath. His statement was backed by a similar one by Egyptian Foreign Minister Amr Moussa who was quoted as saying in Cairo that the London meetings could be the last chance before the peace efforts head toward a total collapse.
Hopes for progress in the London meeting were almost buried right after they emerged. Shortly after the idea was brought up in the first meeting on Monday between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Netanyahu played down the significance of such a meeting. He told his cabinet that the meeting in London would not take the shape of an international conference but "a bilateral meeting that would only discuss the issues of the Gaza airport and the industrial zone between the Gaza Strip and Israel."
Arafat, on his part, was trying to obtain a commitment from Blair that the London meeting would be of a greater importance. He tried to correct Blair in their joint press conference on Monday night in Gaza and said he would be looking forward to have a four-way meeting in London, including himself, Netanyahu, Blair and US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.
A senior Palestinian source in Gaza said on Tuesday that Netanyahu can never be serious when he on one hand speaks of peace and on the other conducts secret talks to include the ultra-right wing Moledet party in his coalition. Netanyahu and Moledet's chairman Rehva'am Ze'evi have been holding talks on enlarging the current coalition government of Netanyahu for a number of weeks.
Netanyahu told his close associates that he wanted to make it easier for him to move forward on the peace process with Ze'evi being a cabinet member. Netanyahu admitted that contacts with Moledet have reached an advanced stage, and that controversial MK Rehva'am Ze'evi could become a government minister. He said that such a political development would be brought about "to strengthen the peace process." But Netanyahu's opponents argue that the results would immediately be the exact opposite. Ze'evi, a hard line former general who openly advocates the transfer of Arabs from what he calls the Land of Israel, is known for his strong rejection of the Oslo Accords between the PLO and Israel.
The Moledet leadership released a statement on Monday night saying that the party has decided to authorize their Knesset members, Ze'evi and Beny Alon, to conduct negotiations, and reach a decision. The statement was released after a meeting the party leaders held to discuss the government's main policy guidelines, which had no mention of the Oslo Accords, according to Moledet.
"My intention is to strengthen the coalition precisely to advance the peace process, and for this end, should it come about, we would be better able to advance the political process," said Netanyahu in his attempt to convince his Cabinet ministers to accept the new comers. Minister of Labor and Social Welfare, Eli Yishai of the ultra-orthodox Shas party, said he was astonished about the intention to include Ze'evi and his party in the government. "It's hard for me to understand how Ze'evi and his party will embrace the policy guidelines of the government, but should they be prepared to accept the fact that this Netanyahu government is seeking to continue with the peace process, I'd give this my blessing."
Israeli officials too admit that Blair's visit did not yield substantial results. One official was quoted as saying that the plan for holding separate talks in London was agreed upon with Secretary of State Madeleine Albright before Mr. Blair came to the region.
The US threatened to put an end to its mediation efforts should Arafat and Netanyahu fail to take tough decisions required for the implementation of the second phase troop redeployment in the West Bank. US officials defined the summit in London as a "decisive meeting for the future of the peace process." US State Department officials quoted in the Hebrew papers on Tuesday did not express a surplus of optimism with respect to the summit meetings, and denied that a three-way, or a four-way meeting with European participation has been scheduled.
According to the plan, which has yet to be authorized officially, Netanyahu will meet with Secretary of State Albright on May 4 in London. And then Albright will meet with Arafat. Should there be progress in these separate meetings, the two leaders will meet in order to reach an agreement covering a cluster of issues, including Gaza airport, the industrial zone, the further redeployment and the immediate resumption of the final status talks.
Palestinian President Arafat had declared in his joint press conference with Prime Minister Blair his acceptance of the US ideas, which are yet to be included in a formal initiative. Palestinian sources argued that following Arafat's acceptance of the US ideas, the ball is in Netanyahu's court. US officials, meanwhile, have made it clear that they expect Netanyahu to come to the meeting in London after having reached all of the resolute decisions needed to advance the peace process, Israeli sources said Tuesday.
They added that US officials believe Arafat has not only accepted the US ideas but also staged an earnest effort against Hamas and other Palestinian groups involved in so-called acts of terror.
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