Barak-Arafat Summit Revives Faltering Talks

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:08 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - Israeli-Palestinian Authority talks are scheduled to resume Monday after a Sunday night summit between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and PA Chairman Yasser Arafat appeared to steer the faltering talks back on course.

Barak and Arafat met for two hours, after a week of Israeli-PA talks in the Israeli resort town of Eilat. Those talks, even with the participation of President Clinton's special envoy Dennis Ross, produced little progress except to highlight the gaps between the two sides.

The last time Barak and Arafat met was in March. Following that meeting, Israeli-PA talks resumed in Washington.

In a statement on Friday, Ross described the negotiations as "serious discussions on permanent status issues." But over the weekend the PA said the talks were in "crisis."

Sunday's summit focused on how to make progress on a framework agreement, a pending Israeli pullback from disputed West Bank territory, and final status issues, according to a statement by Barak's media advisor. The deadline for the framework agreement is less than a week away, and it's unlikely to be met.

"The meeting ... was conducted in a good and business-like atmosphere and was characterized by the participants as productive and useful," the statement said.

However, PA negotiator Saeb Erekat was less optimistic about the state of negotiations.

Erekat told there was a "lack of progress" in the negotiations.
"I think we have reached the moment of truth."

Talks in Eilat hit an impasse last week when Israel reportedly presented maps showing the territory it envisioned would comprise a future Palestinian entity. Apparently it showed three enclaves, one in Gaza and the other two making up some 66 percent of the West Bank.

Barak has vowed to annex to Israel blocs of Jewish settlements in the West Bank - the area Israelis call Judea and Samaria. Some of those communities are located on land settled by Jews prior to Israeli statehood in 1948 that was later lost to the Arabs in Israel's war of independence.

Erekat, who credited the American team with "maintaining" the negotiations last week, accused Israel of trying to "snatch" additional parts of "mandatory Palestine."

The Palestinians, he said, had recognized Israel's right to exist on 78 per cent of the former British mandate of Palestine, while demanding only 22 per cent of that area - the West Bank.

Historical wrangle

Mandatory Palestine was the area committed to Britain by the League of Nations following the defeat of the Turks who ruled the area. It comprised the area currently known as Israel, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and the kingdom of Jordan.

In 1917, the British committed themselves to the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine. Five years later the League of Nations recognized "the historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine" and called on Great Britain to "facilitate Jewish immigration and settlement on the land."

In the same year, the British lopped off three-quarters of "Palestine" to establish the Arab Emirate of Transjordan (present-day Jordan). Jews were forbidden from living there, in what effectively was a homeland for the Palestinians.

In 1947 the successor to the League of Nations, the UN, presented a partition plan to further divide the remnant of the mandated territory between Jews and Arabs.

Despite concerns about the land earmarked for them, the Jews accepted the plan, and declared a state in May 1948. The Arabs rejected the partition plan, and six Arab armies attacked the nascent state of Israel.

Israel wants to postpone talks on big issues

Another Israeli proposal put on the table last week and rejected by the PA cabinet prior to the Barak-Arafat meeting, called for postponing negotiations on final borders and Jerusalem beyond a September 13 deadline for a negotiated settlement.

"The gaps between ourselves and the Palestinians are not presently bridgeable [regarding Jerusalem]," Israeli Minister Haim Ramon was quoted as telling members of the ruling Labor party earlier.

But Erekat said any postponement beyond September was "absolutely unacceptable. [Now is] the time to make decisions."

An Israeli proposal to cede control of three Arab villages on the outskirts of Jerusalem as an advance deposit of an upcoming Israeli land transfer was apparently put on hold again last week, after several cabinet members objected to the timing of the transfer.

One of the villages, Abu Dis, has been discussed as a possible seat of a future independent Palestinian entity. It is currently under PA civilian control and Israeli security control.

Opponents of the transfer say it is too soon to give the PA full control of an area on the border of Jerusalem and argue that it will give the PA a foothold in the city it wants for its future capital.