PA Accuses Israel of Foot-Dragging in Resuming Talks
Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - With U.S. summits behind them and the deadline for Palestinian statehood delayed, Israel and the Palestinian Authority are set to return to the negotiating table to continue the quest for an agreement to end to the conflict between them.
However, the PA accused Israel on Monday of "foot-dragging" in not resuming negotiations immediately, after the Palestinian Central Council voted on Sunday to postpone a unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood in order to continue talks with Israel.
Originally scheduled for May 1999, the declaration was then postponed until September 13 -- this Wednesday. However, intensive U.S. and Israeli pressure on PA Chairman Yasser Arafat prompted the PCC to reconsider.
Arafat is scheduled to discuss the PCC decision with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on Monday. He has met with Mubarak, who has taken the lead as a mediator in the negotiating process in the Arab world, seven times since the collapse of the Camp David summit.
PA leaders said they were waiting for an Israeli response to PA proposals for a resumption of talks and accused Israel of wasting time.
Saeb Erekat, a chief PA negotiator, said Monday he was "hopeful" an agreement could be reached. However, he said he did not want to speculate on the actual chances for achieving an accord.
Asked what the next step would be, he said: "We negotiate. We contacted the Israeli side ... and offered to resume negotiations immediately and intensively."
The future of Jerusalem, the issue believed to have caused the collapse of the Camp David summit last July, is still at the top of the list of problems to be solved in the weeks ahead.
The PA is determined to have eastern Jerusalem as the capital of an independent state, while Israel insists that the city will never be divided again as it was from 1948 to 1967 and will remain under its sovereignty forever.
Erekat said forthcoming talks would focus on all issues including a permanent agreement, Jerusalem, Palestinian refugees, Jewish settlements in disputed territory, and water.
Washington has pledged its continued involvement in the process. Erekat said U.S. participation was "welcomed by both sides."
However, Prime Minister Ehud Barak, on his way back to Israel from New York on Monday, was not upbeat about the prospects of achieving an agreement and indicated that "contacts," rather than negotiations, would continue with the PA.
"It takes two to tango," he told a gathering of Jewish leaders in the U.S. on Sunday.
"If peace is possible we will do our best to achieve it," Barak said. "If not, we will know it in a few weeks."
His office could not confirm when talks might resume between the two sides.
Barak continues to lose allies
Barak is heading home to an uncertain political future. Unable to piece together a coalition government in the absence of his former partner, the ultra-religious Shas party, which pulled out in the summer, Barak seems to be exploring the possibility of forming a national unity government with the official opposition Likud Party.
Likud chairman Ariel Sharon is due to meet government minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer on Monday evening, although Sharon has repeatedly said that he will not join a national unity government under Barak.
Barak's coalition government began to crumble on the eve of the Camp David summit, over fears Barak was willing to make concessions to the PA that went far beyond his pledges to the nation.
Barak also came under fire from an unusual source last Friday - the widow of the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.
In an interview with the popular daily, Yediot Ahronot, Leah Rabin accused Barak of making compromises her husband never would have made.
"I say that Yitzhak would surely turn over in his grave [if he saw what Barak was doing]," she was quoted as saying.
"Yitzhak would never compromise on the Temple Mount, nor on the Old City," she said in reference to areas highly significant to Jews, which Barak has reportedly offered to share with the PA.
"This was taboo," she continued. "[Rabin] was born in Jerusalem. He fought in '48 and saw the battle for the Old City. He saw it fall and its people go into captivity. How they left it divided. This was traumatic for him," Rabin said.
"In Yitzhak's conception, Jerusalem was sanctified. Not religiously, but historically-nationally. Jerusalem is history, it is survival, it is cohesiveness, it is hope," she added.
"Yitzhak always said that we would not return all the occupied territories. There are territories that we will not return. He would not give up the Old City and the Temple Mount. He hoped that in a correct and good relationship with the Palestinians, they would understand what Jerusalem is for us, and they would moderate their demands."
Leah Rabin has been one of the biggest defenders of the current process, which her husband initiated when he was prime minister in 1993. Rabin was assassinated after a peace rally in 1994, by an Israeli student who opposed his concessions to the Palestinians.
Barak has up to now been considered Rabin's political heir.