Palestine: No renegotiating US plan, else 40 percent withdrawal needed
Palestine-Israel-USA, Politics, 7/13/1998
"The issue is not meeting or not but what is important is the context of those meetings," said Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat in his comment on US calls to resume direct talks between the Palestinian government and Israel.
Erekat said the Palestinian government has reluctantly accepted the US ideas in order to give the peace process another chance. "Now that they [US officials] speak of negotiations to take place, do they mean that those talks should be based on the 13 percent scope of withdrawal, which in itself is not a Palestinian stand at all?" asked Erekat. He insisted that if talks were to be resumed between the Palestinian government and Israel, the starting Palestinian demand would address no less than 40 percent of the West Bank as the basis for the upcoming phase withdrawal of the Israeli troops. "The 13 percent was a US proposal meant to bridge the gap and since it failed, any renewed rounds of talks do not necessarily have to be based on that US formula." Erekat said the Palestinian negotiating team has no reason to reopen the talks or negotiate over issues already negotiated in the past.
Erekat and Palestine International Cooperation Minister Nabil Shaath late last week held talks with US officials including Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Erekat said the US officials "reiterated their commitment to the 13 percent scope of withdrawal but said that their proposal had not been accepted by Israel." He refused to answer a question whether the US stand is aimed at saving Netanyahu's government but warned "if Netanyahu believes the Palestinians will give additional concessions, he must be doing a fatal mistake." "The Palestinians will not negotiate over the US initiative. The gap is not between the Palestinians and Israel but between Israel and the US Administration."
In Israel itself, officials continued their support for Secretary Albright's call for direct negotiations and even blamed Palestinian President Yasser Arafat for flying to China on a one week visit instead of remaining in Gaza and handling talks with Israel. Sources close to Netanyahu reiterated their acceptance of the US proposal for direct negotiations with the Palestinians. The sources criticized PLO Executive Committee member Mahmoud Abbas for joining Arafat in his tour to China instead of holding a planned meeting with Israeli Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai. But Erekat said it was the Israelis who canceled the Abu Mazen-Mordechai meeting though it had been planned some weeks ago. Mordechai's office, however, came out with an announcement saying the defense minister is not interested in a meeting with Abu Mazen if it would end up being only to be a photo opportunity for both of them without any issues of substance being addressed or resolved.
The New York Times newspaper, however, reported that the negotiations on Israel's second phase redeployment are due to end within two "for better or for worse." According to the newspaper, the US officials will want to receive a positive or negative response to their initiative by then, and they intend to give a serious push to the efforts during the upcoming ten days.
The secretary-general of the Palestinian Cabinet, Ahmed Abdul Rahman, said that, "Washington offered the Palestinian delegation Israeli ideas that we refused because they do not cohere with the American initiative," emphasizing that Israel's approval of the US initiative for second-phase redeployment in the West Bank is an essential condition before entering into direct negotiations with Israeli Netanyahu's government.
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