Palestinian President Yasser Arafat has sent a letter to US President Bill Clinton complaining of the slow progress in the peace negotiations, and asking Clinton to push for results, the Jerusalem Post said Tuesday.
With the Palestinian Authority under pressure from the Arab world to "take a lesson from Hizbollah," the daily added, Arafat met Monday in Ramallah with Environment Minister Dalia Itzik. He told her "the peace negotiations, both on the officials tracks and the Stockholm secret track, have stopped completely. All the dates that were set in the Sharm agreement have come and passed to no avail," according to the paper.
He added that there is now pressure on the PA to emulate Hizbollah, which managed to drive Israel off its territory through violence instead of negotiations.
"Hizbollah is being portrayed as heroes in the Arab word, while the Palestinians look like losers," said Arafat. Just last week he argued against this line of reasoning, saying it was not Hizbollah that drove Israel out, but Barak's desire for peace.
Officials in the Prime Minister's Office dismissed this negative approach on Arafat's part, one saying that "One day before Oslo was signed he was saying similar things."
With the next round of peace talks in Stockholm due to resume tomorrow, several Israeli and American sources are saying the talks have so far been productive, and a "loose agreement" about what the final deal will look like is beginning to take shape.
According to the Jerusalem Post, there have been unconfirmed reports that, during the last round in Stockholm, Israel gave up its claim to control the border crossings between the PA and Jordan and Egypt and acquiesced to this being done by an international body. In addition, there has apparently been talk of giving the PA 92 percent of the West Bank, with the remaining 8 percent -encompassing a small security strip in the Jordan Valley and most of the settlements - being annexed to Israel. The Prime Minister's Office has refused to comment on the various reports, calling them speculative.
Meanwhile, talks over the release of Palestinian prisoners continue. West Bank Fateh leader Marwan Barghouthi said the Palestinians expect Israel to give them a final answer to their request to release some 270 prisoners, mostly from Fateh , "very soon. If not we will renew the prisoner protests."
Palestinian Preventive Security chief Mohammed Dahlan and PA Minister for Prisoner Affairs Hisham Abdel Razak have been meeting with Israeli negotiators and have made some progress with regard to prisoners' conditions, Barghouthi told the paper.
"There are about 150 prisoners who have been prevented from seeing their families...others have been for years in isolation...the Israelis agreed to cancel these and other [punishments]," Barghouthi said.
Last night, representatives of the General Security Service, the Prisons Service, Abdel Razek, and prisoner leaders met to discuss prison conditions, a source said.
Palestinian prisoners have been on hunger strike for over 20 days demanding the release of all prisoners be guaranteed in the framework agreement. The PA has said it will not sign the agreement unless it guarantees the release of all prisoners as part of a final peace deal.
The PA wants old and sick prisoners and members of Fateh to be released first. "All those prisoners who have spent more than 20 years in jail are from Fateh ," Barghouthi said. There are about nine such prisoners left and some 400 Fateh prisoners in Israeli jails.
He said should make a "courageous gesture, like they did when they withdrew from Lebanon," and release the 270 prisoners. That, he added, would lift the Palestinians' morale and increase support and trust in the peace process – Albawaba.co
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)