Palestinians, Israelis Tackle Heart of Conflict at Talks in Taba

Published January 23rd, 2001 - 02:00 GMT

Palestinian and Israeli negotiators grappled in the Red Sea resort of Taba Monday with problems at the heart of their decades-old conflict, in the biggest push for peace since a Palestinian uprising erupted in late September. 

Members of the Israeli delegation told Haaretz newspaper that Palestinian negotiators have never been so serious about reaching an agreement."  

"The Palestinians have never seemed so serious and determined," said one senior Israeli source at the talks.  

"It's a pity they only realized [the need] now and not four months ago."  

The plenary session, chaired by Israel's foreign minister Shlomo Ben-Ami and speaker of Palestine's legislature, Ahmed Qorei, dealt with territory, said Haaretz.  

Israel presented maps of the Jewish settlement blocs it wants to annex, comprising some 6 percent of the West Bank. Israel also wants to lease additional land to ensure the territorial contiguity of the settlement blocs, said Haaretz.  

The Palestinians presented alternative maps containing much smaller settlement blocs. 

The negotiating teams then went to the neighboring Israeli resort of Eilat where the Israelis had invited the Palestinians for dinner, but Qorei said the negotiations would continue back in Taba every day until Friday, according to AFP. 

"We discussed all issues, but there are still gaps," said Qorei. 

Both sides have low expectations of a breakthrough at the Taba beach resort, which Israel handed back to Egypt under their 1979 peace treaty, AFP said.  

Israeli negotiator and former chief of staff Amnon Lipkin-Shahak told reporters he believes the two sides are unlikely to sign a full peace agreement before the Israeli elections, according to Haaretz. 

A Palestinian source said the Israelis have proposed to accept 150,000 first-generation Palestinian refugees into Israel "for humanitarian reasons," up from the 50,000 they said they would accept before, AFP said. 

But Israeli caretaker Prime Minister Ehud Barak's office in Jerusalem said "the sides will attempt to formulate an agreement on the problem of the Palestinian refugees, taking into account the Israeli position that there will be no right of return to the state of Israel." 

The Palestinians insist on the right of millions of refugees and their descendants to return to homes they lost when Israel was created in 1948. 

On Sunday, Barak's cabinet reaffirmed Israel's "red lines" in the negotiations, rejecting not only the right of return but insisting that 80 percent of Jewish settlers in the Palestinian territories remain in settlement blocs under Israeli sovereignty. 

US President George W. Bush's new administration signaled it was content for now to remain on the sidelines of the peace talks, with State Department officials in Washington saying there were no plans to send a US official to Taba, said AFP. 

Meanwhile, violence continued in Palestinian territories.  

Two bombs exploded in separate attacks near the Jewish settlement of Netzarim in the Gaza Strip Monday, severely injuring an Israeli soldier, said press reports. 

Also in the Gaza Strip, Palestinian mourners shouted "death to Israel," called for revenge and fired shots in the air at the funeral of a 15-year-old boy killed the day before by the Israeli army. 

At the same time, Israel said it opened its borders Monday to 16,000 Palestinian laborers from the West Bank and Gaza Strip in an easing of a blockade that has choked the Palestinian economy, Haaretz added -- Albawaba.com 

 

© 2001 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)


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