Palestinians Reject any Delays on Jerusalem, Refugees
The Palestinians said Tuesday they would accept nothing less than a comprehensive peace deal with Israel, amid suggestions that settlement of the highly sensitive issues of Jerusalem and refugees could be postponed.
"We want a comprehensive settlement, we don't want a partial one," Palestinian international cooperation minister Nabil Shaath told reporters following a meeting between Palestinian President Yasser Arafat and Jordan's King Adbullah II.
"The days of the interim agreements are over, we are talking about comprehensive settlement including refugees and Jerusalem," he said in response to questions that the issues may be not be resolved by a September deadline for a final peace.
"No to the postponement of these issues," Shaath added.
Israeli officials have warned that a final agreement on the status of Jerusalem, both Israel and the Palestinians consider as their capital, could take several years.
Jerusalem and the fate of millions of Palestinian refugees made homeless after the Israeli occupation of Palestine in 1948 are two of the most divisive issues to be overcome in peace talks.
King Abdullah, on his first official visit to the West Bank -- land occupied by Israel from Jordan in the 1967 Middle East war -- met with Arafat for about one hour before lunching together.
He later left by helicopter with Queen Rania, who joined Arafat's wife Suha on a visit to a family support centre near Ramallah.
"It was a very fruitful session in which the whole issue of the peace process was discussed and we hope this will help joint work for the future," Shaath said.
Jordanian Foreign Minister Abdel Ilah al-Khatib voiced his country's backing for Palestinian aspirations to declare an independent state and pledged to "exert all the efforts necessary" to achieve comprehensive peace.
"Jordan's position is very strong and supportive of the Palestinians' achieving their legitimate rights and establishing their state with Jerusalem as its capital," he said.
"We have no illusions that the only test for peace is implementing agreements. This is the only way to reach a comprehensive peace."
Khatib said that during their meeting, the King informed Arafat about his visit to Egypt 10 days ago and his first-ever official trip to Israel on Sunday, when he met Prime Minister Ehud Barak.
"The Palestinian issue is a central one in the Arab-Israeli conflict and I am very hopeful that this year will witness a breakthrough that will give hope to the Palestinians in the justice they seek and to the Israeli people in the security that they desire," The king said before talks with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak in the southern Israeli town of Eilat.
Senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat said on Sunday during a visit to Amman that the Palestinians had called on Jordan to help advance the peace talks.
"We asked Jordan to get involved to help us get the withdrawal completed (from the occupied West Bank), to put an end to settlement activity, and to free prisoners of war and Palestinian detainees held in Israeli prisons," he said.
Israel and the Palestinians are due to resume negotiations in Eilat next Sunday after two rounds in the United States failed to achieve any appreciable progress on the key issues at the heart of their decades-old conflict.
US: NEXT ROUND OF ISRAELI-PALESTINIAN PEACE TALKS MAY BE DECISIVE
In Washington, the United States said Monday it would step up its role in a possibly "decisive" next round of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and said it expected Secretary of State Madeleine Albright would visit the region within the next six to eight weeks.
"In our judgment, the next six to eight weeks could well be a decisive phase in the pursuit of peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis," State Department spokesman James Rubin told reporters.
He noted that special US Middle East peace envoy Dennis Ross would travel to the region early next week to participate in the next round, due to begin Sunday in the Israeli Red Sea port of Eilat.
"That phase, obviously, is now including a more intensive American involvement with Ambassador Ross' presence at the table and work with the leaders," Rubin said, stressing that Ross would be meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and President Arafat.
"And I would say that we also would expect at the appropriate time for Secretary Albright to travel to the region," he said.
Rubin remained coy on the exact timing of Albright's possible travel plans but acknowledged that "the appropriate time" fit within the six- to- eight-week period and hinted that if such a trip happened, a summit between President Bill Clinton, Barak and Arafat could well follow.
"When the secretary travels, if she travels as we would expect she would, she'd obviously be in a position to make a recommendation to the president as to whether a summit would be or would not be useful and would be properly prepared and the ground properly prepared," he said – (AFP)
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