By Munir K. Nasser
Chief Correspondent, Washington, DC
State Department officials said they are encouraged by the progress made so far at the peace talks between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators in Washington.
“The Israelis have moved their position and are willing to give the Palestinians more land in the West Bank, but not necessarily on Jerusalem,” An official told Albawaba.com.
He added that “we are encouraged by the commitment and openness shown by both sides in an effort to overcome their differences as well as to take advantage of the time we have left for negotiations.”
The official confirmed that the Palestinian and Israeli negotiations have met face-face with the American team in trilateral meetings at the Bolling Air Force Base in southeastern Washington. He added that Secretary Albright was scheduled to meet with all negotiators on Thursday evening, and that the talks are going to carry through till Saturday.
He said there is a possibility that President Clinton will meet them again at the White House on Friday to try to resolve remaining differences on key final-status issues.
The tone of encouragement from the State Department comes amidst optimistic statements from the Israeli side and cautious statements from Palestinian negotiators. According to Israeli press reports, Israel has accepted the principle that the international border between Israel and a Palestinian state will be based on the June 4, 1967 lines, but with border adjustments and an exchange of land.
A diplomatic source in Jerusalem told Haaretz that Israel is asking for border adjustments around settlement blocs and is willing to agree to land exchanges on both sides of the Green Line that will slightly enlarge the amount of land in the Gaza Strip. The paper also said Israel has agreed to the general concept of giving the Palestinians sovereignty over Arab east Jerusalem and religious sites holy to Islam and Christianity, including the Haram Al-Sharif.
On the Palestinian side, negotiator Yasser Abed Rabbo said the Palestinian delegation is close to achieving recognition of Palestinian sovereignty over Arab East Jerusalem, including the holy sites. "We may be very near to an agreement, or very far from one. It depends on the details," he told Reuters.
He added that the details that remained to be discussed included how to link up Jerusalem neighborhoods and the future status of the Jewish neighborhood. "All these subjects are difficult ones and require a big effort. If we do not reach agreement on them, there will be no agreement," he said.
Abed Rabbo stressed that sharp differences still remain over the future of Palestinian refugees with the Palestinians insisting on the right of return of Palestinians under UN Security Council Resolution 194. Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said this must be a fundamental element in any agreement and there could be no solution if this issues was not dealt with.
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)