A top Palestinian official said Thursday that Israeli Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben Ami was making a political "bluff" when he said that Palestinian President Yasser Arafat had proposed resuming peace negotiations, reported AFP.
The official, who asked not to be named, told the agency that negotiations would only resume when Israel has applied an agreement made at the Sharm el-Sheikh summit which required Israel to withdraw its troops from Palestinian towns.
"It's a bluff. When they apply the Sharm el-Sheikh accords we will be ready to resume negotiations immediately, but not before," the official said.
"Negotiations would be destined for failure if they resumed now because Israeli tanks are in the Palestinian territories. It would be impossible," he added.
Ben Ami said earlier in the day that Arafat had proposed via the United States the resumption of negotiations with Israel, the day after a bomb blast in northern Israel killed two people, according to AFP.
"US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright called me Wednesday night to tell me that he had made this proposition (to resume negotiations)," Ben Ami told Israeli radio.
"If this is serious, it could be a sign of distress or a desire to exit this cycle of violence," he said.
According to The Jerusalem Post newspaper, Albright suggested that demilitarized zones be set up between Israel and the PA.
The paper did not give further details about the US proposal.
A Palestinian official had said that Albright had telephoned Arafat following the bomb blast in the northern Israeli town of Hadera to discuss the escalating violence, reported the Israeli radio.
"The main problem is Yasser Arafat's inability to get out of the cycle of violence that he put himself in, which is why we must give him a chance," Ben Ami added.
According to Haaretz newspaper, Arafat proposed the resumption of talks in a telephone call with Turkey's Foreign Minister, Ismael Cem.
The daily quoted senior diplomatic sources in Jerusalem as saying that they have serious doubts regarding Arafat's intent.
They said "he has made numerous such statements in the past, but the real test is what happens on the ground." - (Several Sources)
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