Palestine - Israel meetings undecided, Netanyahu denies accepting US proposal
Palestine-Israel, Politics, 7/17/1998
Semi-official telephone contacts have continued between top Palestinian and Israeli officials to prepare for a meeting between PLO Executive Committee member Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) and Israel Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai.
The meeting, Palestinian sources said, may take place on either Saturday evening or Sunday morning. The venue, the sources added, has not been decided with two sites being discussed at the moment. Abu Mazen and Mordechai may meet either at US ambassador Ned Walker's residence in Herzliya, 12kms north of Tel Aviv, or at Beit Hanoun (Erez) crossing point between the Gaza Strip and Israel.
But Palestinian officials believe it is too early to speak of such a meeting as being imminent. President Yasser Arafat's spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh, meanwhile, said there were no official contacts at all with the Israelis to prepare the planned meeting between Abu Mazen and Mordechai. "It should be understood that any meeting with the Israelis should be based on their acceptance of the US ideas for a second phase redeployment and on the grounds of the signed agreements between the two parties," he said. He warned that any meetings not preceded with good preparations will end up being a waste of time.
Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat told a number of foreign diplomats in the Palestinian areas that the Palestinian government "is not ready to reopen the signed agreements," including the 13 percent suggested formula which the US administration had suggested. Erekat briefed the foreign diplomats on Israeli practices against the Palestinian areas and called on them to intervene and halt all unilateral Israeli measures, particularly in occupied Jerusalem.
Both sides have said they had no problem holding the meeting provided the other party is authorized enough to reach agreements. Israel said it hoped Abu Mazen would bring to the meeting a full authorization from President Yasser Arafat to finalize the outstanding issues with Israel. The Palestinians, however, said the problem lies on the Israeli side where none of the Israeli officials seems to be ready to take a decision brave enough to move the peace process forward. A senior Palestinian official close to the talks said on Friday that meetings with Israeli officials have become meaningless. He cited Friday reports in the Hebrew press which said that quoted Netanyahu's top aides as saying that there won't be any second phase Israeli withdrawal in the West Bank.
In this context, Yediot Ahronot daily reported that at least three Knesset members close to Netanyahu have concluded that he has no intention to carry out the second phase withdrawal. Ultra-orthodox Shas religious party leader Aryeh Deri and Likud Knesset members Shetrit and Silvan Shalom won't say this in public, but behind closed doors they reached the conclusion that Netanyahu isn't serious about carrying out the withdrawal.
The paper published details of what went on in the inner security Cabinet meeting, better known the kitchenette last Wednesday. It said that for the first time, Netanyahu disclosed to members of his kitchenette the details of the understandings he reached with the US concerning the phase agreement. The kitchenette handles Israel's foreign and security issues and comprises, in addition to Netanyahu, Mordechai, Ariel Sharon and Natan Sharansky. The three ministers, said the paper, were amazed to discover the large extent to which these understandings still have loose ends.
Netanyahu said that he has reached a "certain" understanding with the US concerning the scope of the third phase, and that he has before him a bridging proposal forwarded by the US concerning the character of the second phase. "I never told the Americans that I consent to their proposal of a 13.1 percent withdrawal. All that I said was that their bridge proposal was interesting and positive."
Mordechai and Sharon didn't accept this explanation. They told Netanyahu that, to the best of their knowledge, he already committed himself to the US months ago to a 13.1 percent pullout. Netanyahu replied: "I didn't commit myself." He added that the negotiations with the US continue and that US officials are dealing with "refinements" of their proposals.
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