Israel And PA Wrap Up Talks In Washington

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:07 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - Eight days of talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority came to an end on Tuesday with reportedly little to show for the effort other than an agreement to meet for another round of talks.

A virtual media blackout has left negotiators to wrangle in private at the Bolling Air Force base outside Washington, DC.

The State Department was positive but vague about the outcome of this round of talks that followed a six-week suspension over a dispute concerning territory to be included in an Israeli land handover.

Department spokesman James Foley characterized the talks as a "brainstorming session" and said there was a "sense of destiny" and an agreement to work together to solve the problems.

"Our assessment of the talks is that they have been serious, intensive and, indeed, productive," Foley said, adding that a further round would be held in the US within a few weeks.

Israel and the PA are working toward a May deadline for reaching a "framework" for negotiating a final arrangement by September on issues such as the status of Jerusalem, Palestinian refugees, Jewish settlements, water issues and final borders.

Another issue to be ironed out before a final agreement is that of a further Israeli withdrawal from Judea and Samaria (the West Bank). According to former agreements, Israel is only required to turn over a further one per cent of the disputed territory at this stage.

However, the PA, which currently maintains partial or full control over nearly 40 per cent of the area, wants to have more than 90 per cent - excluding settlements and military outposts - in its hands ahead of the final talks.

Head of the Palestine Liberation Organization in Washington, Hassan Abdel Rahman, was quoted as saying he could not state that "anything had been achieved" in this round of talks.

Even PA Chairman Yasser Arafat had more to say about President Clinton's unsuccessful attempt to restart Israeli-Syrian talks by meeting Syrian President Hafez Assad over the weekend than he did about the Israel-Palestinian process.

"It was an important step forward, and it will be followed by further steps," Arafat said of the Clinton-Assad summit. "It will lead to further talks. It is high time for a just and lasting peace in the Middle East."

The PA, which initially welcomed the resumption of Israeli-Syrian talks in December after a nearly four-year break, subsequently complained that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak was neglecting the Palestinian track in favor of negotiations with Damascus.

When it became clear that talks with the Syrians were at a standstill in January, the Israeli emphasis then swung back to seeking progress in talks with the PA.