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Progress in peace talks cut short by murders
Progress in Taba peace talks cut short by West Bank murders
By Naomi Segal
Jewish Telegraphic Agency
January 24, 2001
JERUSALEM, The state of Israeli-Palestinian peace
talks seems to vary by the hour, with reports of progress overtaken by word
talks have been suspended.
When the talks began Sunday at the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Taba,
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak held no illusions about the likelihood of
reaching an agreement, considering the distance separating the two sides on
issues such as Jerusalem and Palestinian refugees.
Palestinians were equally pessimistic. But by Tuesday negotiators were
describing the talks as some of the best that had been held in a long time.
That changed before the day ended.
Later Tuesday, Barak recalled his top negotiators from the talks after
two Israelis were pulled from a restaurant in the West Bank city of Tulkarm
shot. Hamas claimed responsibility for the murders.
It was unclear when the negotiators would return to Taba, but the talks
were not expected to resume at least until after funerals for the two
The talks had been expected to last about 10 days, meaning they would
end just before Israel holds elections for prime minister on Feb. 6.
Both sides had expressed doubt it would be possible to conclude an
agreement before the elections. Yet before the two bodies were found
the sides described the discussions as ``serious" and conducted in a good
``I am a realist. It would be very, very difficult," Foreign Minister
Shlomo Ben-Ami, the chief Israeli negotiator, said Tuesday when asked about
prospects for finalizing an agreement in the coming days.
``We cannot talk about substance because nothing of substance has
been resolved yet," Palestinian Authority official Nabil Sha'ath said.
Despite the skepticism, the talks were reportedly substantive, with the
two sides reviewing maps and going into details on all the main issues.
The Israeli daily Ha'aretz quoted an Israeli source as saying it was
unlikely that the two teams could draft an agreement before the elections,
they nonetheless hoped to come up with guidelines that could serve as a
for discussions following the election.
One member of the Palestinian team, Ahmed Karia, said separate
committees had been formed to address Jerusalem, security, borders and
Palestinian refugees, the toughest unresolved issues.
On Tuesday, there were reports that Israel had put forward a proposal
to resolve the sovereignty issue over holy sites in Jerusalem's Old City,
has emerged as one of the main stumbling blocks to an agreement.
According to the reports, Israel had suggested that special
arrangements be developed for the holy sites to ensure free access by
of all religions.
According to some reports, these arrangements would amount to shared
Israeli-Palestinian sovereignty over all the sites, including the Western
other Jewish sites.
Israel's chief Ashkenazi rabbi, Yisrael Meir Lau, decried the move and
said he was assured by a senior political source that no such proposal was
Israel's Prime Minister Barak's Office said in a statement that under
any agreement, Jewish holy sites would remain under Israeli sovereignty.
In any event, Palestinians were unenthusiastic about the idea.
Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat called it a ``nonstarter.''
The Israeli team includes Ben-Ami, Barak aide Gilead Sher and
Cabinet ministers Yossi Beilin and Amnon Lipkin-Shahak.
Sha'ath, Erekat, legislative speaker Karia and Information Minister
Yasser Abed Rabbo are leading the Palestinian team.
Tuesday's West Bank slayings provided the latest setback to the
According to initial reports, two Israeli restaurateurs had traveled to
West Bank city of Tulkarm with an Israeli Arab acquaintance to shop.
Palestinian sources said they had entered a restaurant when they were
set upon by masked gunmen, who took the two Jews to an area outside the
center of Tulkarm and shot them in the head, leaving their bodies by the
The Israeli Arab was unharmed. Israeli security forces are
whether he was an accomplice to the murders.
During the ongoing violence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Israel
forbade its civilians from traveling to the territories.
© JTA Inc., 2000. May not be reproduced without written permission.