The chief Palestinian negotiator with Israel, Yasser Abed Rabbo, has resigned in protest over the establishment of a second negotiating channel, his office said Monday.
"Abed Rabbo announced today his resignation because of the presence of more than one negotiating channel about the final status (of the Palestinian territories)," it said in a statement.
Abed Rabbo, who remains Palestinian information and culture minister, informed Palestinian President Yasser Arafat of his decision by letter.
He had been appointed chief negotiator in September with the signing of the Sharm el-Sheikh accord paving the way for the resumption of the final status talks after months of deadlock under the former right-wing government of Benjamin Netanyahu.
The statement said Abed Rabbo, 54, stepped down because of the launch of secret negotiations in the Swedish capital Stockholm between Israeli officials and Palestinian legislative council speaker Ahmed Qorei.
Abed Rabbo, a veteran member of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), complained that the presence of more than one channel was "an Israeli game, invented by Israel with the support of outside powers to weaken the Palestinian negotiating position."
He told AFP the tactic was adopted after Palestinian negotiators rejected last week an Israeli map that proposed the creation of a divided Palestinian state on some two-thirds of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Palestinian sources said Sunday that Qorei and Palestinian cabinet member Hassan Asfur were to meet with Public Security Minister Shlomo Ben Ami and another official from Prime Minister Ehud Barak's office.
Israeli radio said Ben Ami had already met secretly with PLO number two Mahmud Abbas and with Qorei for an "exchange of ideas" to help advance the official peace talks.
Abed Rabbo said there was no longer a need to conduct negotiations in secret, as was the case before the signing of the 1993 interim Oslo peace accords.
"At that time Israel was not recognizing the PLO and was refusing officially to negotiate with it. That situation does not exist now," he said -- RAMALLAH, West Bank (AFP)
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