Resurrected Camp David Talks Underway with Albright at Helm
The Camp David Middle East peace talks resumed Thursday after their brief death and surprising overnight revival with US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright at the helm in President Bill Clinton's absence.
Albright began meeting with the US team of negotiators shortly after 10 a.m. (1400 GMT) to continue discussions on an agreement to end more than 50 years of conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said.
Later, Albright was to meet separately with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian President Yasser Arafat as well as the each side's delegations, he said.
"She will continue to try to close the gaps and move forward on the issues so that when the president returns he can assess the status of our efforts," Boucher told reporters at the summit press center near the presidential retreat.
He added that a three-way meeting between Albright, Arafat and Barak -- in what would be only the third such meeting between the leaders of the three delegations apart from meals -- was possible, but not set.
Boucher dismissed suggestions that Clinton's absence would affect the intensity of the negotiations.
"The effort has certainly not slackened in any way," he said. "The same patterns and intensity will be maintained."
The summit had been declared over without an agreement late Wednesday only to be rescued when Clinton made good on his intention to leave the talks to travel to Japan prompting Barak and Arafat to stay.
"The short answer as to why we are still here after everybody thought we were through is that nobody wanted to give up," a tired and hoarse Clinton told reporters at the center, announcing the dramatic turnaround in events well after midnight.
"And I didn't think we should give up, and so we are still plugging away," Clinton said, warning, however, that the decision to stay was no guarantee of success.
"There should be no illusions about the difficult task ahead, but there should be no limit to the effort we are prepared to make," said Clinton, who is to return to the United States on Sunday.
Since the talks began July 11th, both Israel and the Palestinians have accused each other of intransigence and a lack of seriousness in the negotiations and have angrily threatened to walk out.
The two sides face a self-imposed September 13th deadline for a final peace deal on the most critical issues in their conflict, including control over Jerusalem, the fate of millions of Palestinian refugees and the borders of a future Palestinian state.
Confirming Clinton's take on the difficulty of reaching a deal, Palestinian officials said no progress had been made on any issue, in particular on Jerusalem where they had rejected an Israeli plan to split east Jerusalem.
"Until now they have not reached any agreement on any points with the Israeli side nor made any progress on any issue," a Palestinian source close to the negotiating team told AFP in Ramallah.
Israel had proposed dividing east Jerusalem into three sectors -- one under full Israeli control, another under Palestinian control but without sovereignty and a third where the Palestinians had civilian authority but Israel retained security control, Palestinian sources said.
It had also proposed that the al-Aqsa mosque, one of the holiest sites in Islam, be put into the custody of the United Nations and certain Arab and Islamic nations, while the Palestinians would have the right to raise their flag there, they said.
"Arafat rejected all these proposals and insisted on the return of all of east Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state," the source close to the negotiating team said.
At the same time, Israeli public radio reported that Barak had telephoned several ministers in his government to reassure then he will not give way on any of the key points.
In the calls, Barak stressed he had "no intention of responding to the unreasonable demands of the Palestinians," the radio said -- THURMONT, Maryland (AFP)
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)