Worthy Christian News » Israel-Palestinian Conflict » Barak Slows Peace Process Ahead of Elections
With just three days left of the Clinton presidency's hand in Mideast diplomacy and an Israeli election only three weeks away, Prime Minister Ehud Barak has decided to finally put peace negotiations with the Palestinians on the back burner for now.
Israeli and Palestinian negotiators have been meeting secretly in the Jerusalem area in a half-hearted attempt to summarize on paper where the negotiations stand over a final-status agreement. Following a one-day suspension in response to the murder of Israeli farmer Roni Tzalach in the Gaza Strip, parallel security talks between the two sides were also scheduled in a continuing bid to reduce violence ahead of the Israeli elections, thus bolstering the fading chances of Prime Minister Ehud Barak to return to office.
It was agreed that today Israel would reopen the Gaza airport and Rafiah and Karni crossings, closed once again on Monday after Tzalach's slain body was found outside his hothouses in Gush Katif.
Barak convened his "peace cabinet" yesterday, after a round of talks with the Palestinians, and it was decided to continue talks at all levels until the election. But sharp disagreements emerged over the merits of putting in writing the areas of agreement and dispute over the parameters of outgoing US President Bill Clinton's bridging proposals.
Barak argued that it is unwise to document what concessions Israel is willing to make, lest such a paper serve as an election tool for his opponent, Likud chairman Ariel Sharon, or as the starting point for future negotiations. He opted for "slowing" the pace of talks for now.
Barak also decided to prepare for unilateral separation in the event that a peace accord doesn't materialize. He has also decided that Israel should seek a comprehensive peace accord, rather than limiting its aspirations to pared down, partial agreements.
But tensions flared at the peace cabinet meeting when Cabinet minister Shimon Peres reportedly contended that it is still possible to sign a new accord by the end of the week. He was joined by minister Yossi Beilin and Meretz MK Yossi Sarid in pressuring Barak to persist with efforts to reach an agreement, even an incomplete one, with the Palestinians. The trio also voiced opposition to Israeli preparations for a unilateral separation.
Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami proposed that negotiations continue at their present pace, even after President-elect George W. Bush takes office. Ben-Ami visited Cairo today to brief Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on the status of talks with the Palestinians and discuss ways to reduce violence. At Mubarak's initiative, Ben-Ami will also meet with Arafat in Cairo this evening.
Mubarak met earlier this week with Syrian dictator Bashar Assad in Damascus and Arab media reports say he may also be planning a meeting with Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein soon.
In an interview with Qatar's AL JAZEERA satellite TV, Barak again stressed that Israel would never accept the "right of return" of refugees to Israel, and that he would not sign an agreement that would transfer sovereignty over the Temple Mount to the Palestinians. Barak insisted, however, that he was willing to stake his political career on making peace with the Palestinians.
One PA source said the PA is prepared for a long conflict with Israel. "We want the Israelis to feel the pressure during the coming two years, so that Israelis will beg the Palestinians for an agreement," he said, implying that the intifada will continue till Israelis become fed up with the violence and pressure the government to withdraw beyond the Green Line.
Used with Permission from International Christian Embassy Jerusalem.