Direct Talks Between Israeli, Palestinian Negotiators in Washington Still Possible
By Munir K. Nasser
Chief Correspondent, Washington, DC
Israeli and Palestinian negotiators will be engaged in parallel bilateral discussions with US officials on Tuesday, with a possibility of conducting direct discussions between Israeli and Palestinian sides.
A State Department official told Albawaba.com that the Palestinians and Israelis negotiators would meet face-to-face at some point at a location in the greater Washington area. The Palestinian side will be represented by chief negotiator Saeb Erekat, Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo, and Mohammed Dahlan, head of the Preventive Security Service. The Israeli side will be headed by Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami and Barak's bureau chief Gilead Sher.
The official said Special Middle East Coordinator Dennis Ross and Deputy Special Middle East Coordinator Aaron Miller would be handling contacts with the parties. They will meet initially with negotiators from each party. He said President Clinton and Secretary Madeleine Albright would be closely following the discussions.
In response to a question as to whether the parties can reach agreement before President Clinton leaves office, the official said President Clinton and Secretary Albright have stated a commitment to doing everything they can to support peace efforts in the Middle East as long as they are in office. “The US support for Middle East peace is not a partisan issue,” he said. “It has been a top priority for all American administrations, Republican and Democrat, and will remain so in the future.”
When asked whether the negotiations will take place while the violence continued in the region, the official said that it is still critical that the cycle of violence be broken. “If the negotiations are to be successful, the situation on the ground will have to change,” he said. “Violence can never produce an agreement, only negotiations will be able to do that. There is no other way,” he stressed.
He said Dennis Ross will not travel to the Middle East at this time and the focus will be on the negotiations in Washington. “Any subsequent activities will be determined following the results of their discussions,” he said.
According to Washington sources, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak received approval to go ahead with an attempt to reach an agreement with the Palestinians from US President-elect George W. Bush, Vice President-elect Richard Cheney, and Secretary of State-designate Colin Powell when he spoke with them by phone last weekend.
The sources said that Clinton also telephoned Arafat on Saturday, asking him to send his delegation to Washington. They added if progress is made in current negotiations, it is possible that Barak and Arafat could meet in Washington after Christmas next week for a summit.
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