Middle East Crisis Headlines – 1/19/2001
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat is proposing another round of peace talks in an attempt to reach an agreement before Israeli elections on February 6th. Palestinian parliament speaker Ahmed Qureia said they would involve “marathon 10-day negotiations…beginning next week, to see if we can bridge the gaps that still remain on most of the issues.” Qureia led a Palestinian team that met with Israeli negotiators for about three hours in Tel Aviv yesterday. Both sides described the talks, which focused on territorial issues and Jerusalem, as serious and deep. It is not clear, however, whether Israel will agree to the talks, which would take place at the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Taba. Barak is under pressure to agree to the talks from cabinet doves like Shimon Peres, but the Prime Minister sounds increasingly pessimistic. “I don’t believe there’s a real chance of reaching an agreement before the elections,” Barak said.
An online love affair between a 16-year-old Israeli boy and a Palestinian woman ended in tragedy, when the body of the Israeli was found riddled with bullets near Palestinian-ruled Ramallah, north of Jerusalem. Israeli security officials believe the woman lured the teenager to a meeting, where he was shot dead by Palestinian gunmen with her collaboration. Money he was told to bring was stolen. The boy was a resident of the Israeli coastal city of Ashkelon and had been missing for a few days. Prime Minister Ehud Barak described the attack as “despicable” and “cold-blooded,” and vowed to track down the killers. In a rare gesture, the Palestinian Authority also condemned the killing, saying it rejected attacks on civilians. Palestinian police have so far made three arrests in connection with the case.
Opposition leader Ariel Sharon continues to hold a strong lead over Prime Minister Ehud Barak in opinion polls published today. Two polls gave Sharon an 18 percentage point leadâ€”in one poll that meant no change over last week; in the other it was a loss of two percentage points for Sharon. A third poll gave Sharon a 20 percentage point lead, a gain of one point over last week. The surveys showed that 12 to 18 percent of the electorate remain undecided. However, the polls also indicatedâ€”as they did last weekâ€”that if former Prime Minister Shimon Peres were running against Sharon, the race would be a virtual tie. One poll gave Peres a one percentage point lead, the others showed him behind by one to three points. While Barak has been under pressure in left-wing circles to drop out so Peres can run, he insists that he has no intention to do so.
In a newspaper interview today, Sharon said Arabs have the wrong image of him. “I want to say something about my demonizationâ€”after all, I am known as someone who eats Arabs for breakfast,” Sharon told the Hebrew daily “Yediot Ahronot.” “This is baseless. People are killed in wars, but I never allowed the mistreatment of a prisoner and I never humiliated anyone. When I saw these things occur in war, I court-martialled people and handed out the most severe punishments,” he said. “I never hurt their honor. I saw them fight to the death but I am not in favor of waging war with the Arab world. Get that straight, once and for all.”