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Violence erupts after conclusion of peace talks
Taba talks end without deal; violence replaces diplomacy
By Naomi Segal
Jewish Telegraphic Agency
January 29, 2001
JERUSALEM Violence has filled the vacuum created
after the latest round of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks concluded over the
Israel and the Palestinian Authority on Saturday ended a week of
negotiations at the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Taba, with officials from the
sides saying they had ``never been closer" to an accord.
On Monday they seemed as far apart as ever, as the carnage of the four-
month-old Palestinian uprising -- which had gone through a brief lull during
Taba talks -- resumed once again.
An Israeli motorist was shot and killed Monday evening in an ambush
north of Jerusalem. The attack took place as Palestinian gunmen fired at cars
a major highway near the West Bank city of Ramallah, according to Israeli
The bypass road is often used by Jewish settlers who live in the West
The victim's name was not immediately released, but he was described
as a man in his 50s who lives in the Jewish settlement of Ofra.
Prime Minister Ehud Barak condemned the attack, saying the murderers
would be punished.
Negotiators from the two sides had been upbeat at the end of the Taba
talks, but the diplomatic atmosphere underwent a dramatic change within less
than 24 hours.
On Monday, Barak accused Palestinian Authority President Yasser
Arafat of unleashing an ``attack of lies" against Israel at an important
international economic forum in Davos, Switzerland.
Speaking to an audience that included U.N. Secretary-General Kofi
Annan, Arafat accused Israel of waging ``fascist military aggression" against
Palestinian people and using weapons containing depleted uranium, a charge
Israel has strongly denied.
Some have compared the remarks to Suha Arafat's wild accusations in
November 1999 that Israel was poisoning Palestinian water and land.
Israeli Cabinet Minister Shimon Peres, who was part of the same panel
at Davos and whose remarks had been far more conciliatory, was taken aback.
``Let's walk the last piece of the road for peace and have it," he
implored Arafat. ``Your children will be happy and our children will be
At the end of the session, the two shook hands.
In a statement issued after Arafat's speech, Barak suspended all
diplomatic contacts with the Palestinians until after the Israeli elections,
said security contacts to try to calm the violence in the territories would
In further violence Monday, Israeli troops shot and killed a Palestinian
man during a battle with Palestinian gunmen in the Gaza Strip. Monday's
confrontation near the settlement of Neveh Dekalim was the first
death in days.
At least 330 Palestinians and 50 Israelis have been killed since the
Palestinian uprising began in late September.
With elections for prime minister barely a week away, Barak briefed his
Cabinet on Sunday on the latest round of peace talks.
At the conclusion of the Taba talks, officials from both sides said they
were confident an agreement could be reached if negotiations resumed after
Israel's Feb. 6 elections.
Addressing his Cabinet a day later, Barak did not reveal extensive
details but did say that Palestinian negotiators for the first time had
agreed to the
existence of Israeli settlements in any final peace accord.
Barak said the Palestinian team had been willing to let Israel keep
clusters of West Bank land containing some 50 percent to 60 percent of the
settler population, but Israel stood firm on keeping at least 80 percent of
settlers in place.
``My assessment from the outset had been that the Taba talks would not
produce an agreement," Barak told his ministers. ``But we had to know how far
we could get in negotiations before the elections. We are closer than ever to
agreement with the Palestinians."
Barak is trailing badly behind Likud Party chairman Ariel Sharon in
Sharon has said that if he wins he would consider forming a national
Barak said Sunday he would not serve as defense minister under
Sharon, and has no place in the far-right government he would expect Sharon to
On Monday, Barak reiterated that no contacts are under way to form a
unity government after the elections.
His statement came amid renewed speculation that both Barak and
Sharon would pursue a unity government regardless of who wins the Feb. 6 vote.
Palestinian negotiator Ahmed Karia said Sunday that talks would
continue after the elections, no matter who wins. But he stressed that the
Palestinians would use ``all means" to achieve their goals, terminology
Palestinian leaders often use to hint at violence without quite saying it.
Speaking in a more explicit vein, Karia was quoted as telling the
Arabic-language Al-Ayyam newspaper that if Sharon wins the elections and
takes a less accommodating stance toward the Palestinians, he could face a
A joint communique issued by Israel and the Palestinians on Saturday
said the two sides would seek to return to the ``normal" security situation
Despite the declarations, it was unclear just what the talks achieved.
Palestinian officials still spoke of broad gaps on key issues, including
Jerusalem, security and refugees.
The joint declaration also was assailed by the Israeli opposition. The
Likud Party claimed the statement was intended to aid Barak's electoral
Sharon accused Barak of taking ``steps that pose a danger to the State
Sharon said Sunday that Barak's attempts to forge a peace accord had
brought Israel neither peace nor security.
Instead, he said, ``it brought us a state of fighting.''
© JTA Inc., 2000. May not be reproduced without written permission.