Israeli and Palestinian negotiators resume peace talks in Washington Tuesday amid political turmoil in Israel and uncertainty over the Middle East peace process created by the death of Syrian President Hafez Assad.
The two sides are still in theory aiming for a September 13th deadline to wrap up a "final status" agreement settling all major issues outstanding between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
But the thorniest problems -- the status of Jerusalem, the fate of Israeli settlements in the occupied territories, the final borders of a future Palestinian state and a Palestinian demand that Israel recognize refugees' right of return to their homes -- remain to be resolved.
This last issue is one on which Arafat's administration faces particularly strong domestic pressure.
US officials would ideally like to see this week's talks produce a framework agreement paving the way for the final status accord in September.
However Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak said in a radio interview Saturday that the September agreement might only be a partial one, with some issues delayed for settlement at a later date.
An adviser to Palestinian president Yasser Arafat, Nabil Abu Rudeina, responded by saying the authority rejected "any delay on any point tied to the final status."
A spokesman for the Israeli embassy here, Mark Reguev, told AFP Monday, "We are determined to make progress in the peace process and to reach a framework agreement with the Palestinians (with a view to) a definitive accord on the September 13th deadline."
Barak's 11-month government, meanwhile, faces a fresh political crisis after three parties in his patchwork six-party coalition voted with the opposition in a parliamentary vote for early elections.
On Tuesday, the crisis deepened with new threats from Israel's powerful the powerful Shas religious party that it could quit the government within 24 hours.
Barak, who is hoping to cobble together a new government with a similar make-up to the current one, including Shas, has vowed to press ahead with efforts to make peace with its Arab neighbors.
Also adding to the uncertainty over how far the Washington talks will go is the death Saturday of Syria's Assad, aged 69 – WASHINGTON (AFP)
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