26 Aug. - 1 Sep. 1999
Issue No. 444
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875|
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Tough talkingBy Khaled Dawoud
Palestinian President Yasser Arafat has said negotiations with Israel "continue to be complicated", and that meetings between the two sides had yet to produce concrete results. Arafat was speaking to reporters on Sunday after meeting President Hosni Mubarak in Alexandria, the second between the two leaders in a little over a week.
Arafat requested "external interference" -- an allusion to the United States -- to "push forward the process between us and the Israelis to implement what was agreed upon and signed, whether in Egypt or the United States."
He denied that an agreement had been reached on a timetable to implement the three-phased redeployment of Israeli troops contained in the Wye River Memorandum which was signed in October by Arafat, former Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and US President Bill Clinton. Arafat added that negotiations with Israel were continuing and that the two sides disagreed on the date for concluding the implementation of the Wye deal. "There has been some movement, but it is not complete," Arafat said. "We insist that the implementation of the agreement ends by the end of next November, while the Israelis insist that the date should be 15 January."
Palestinians insist on the implementation of the Wye deal before starting final status talks with Israel. This will allow Palestinians to gain control of more West Bank territory and put them in a better negotiating position in final settlement talks.
While the Palestinians demand the immediate implementation of the second phase of redeployment provided for by Wye, they are apparently willing to compromise on the third phase. Arafat said he rejected Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak's proposal to include the third phase of redeployment in the final settlement talks, "but we insist on an article on the third phase which states that negotiations on it should start in October."
After Palestinians said they would not sign any new interim agreements with Israel, sources close to the ongoing negotiations between the two sides said they were working on a new "memorandum" containing a timetable for the redeployment and conditions for the release of Palestinian prisoners.
The Palestinian leader said he was in constant contact with Clinton ahead of the scheduled regional tour by US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Albright will start her tour on 1 September, and Israelis have accused the Palestinians of adopting a hard-line position in the hope that she would put pressure on Barak to carry out the Wye Memorandum in full.
Reflecting his frustration, Arafat said the problems he faced in the negotiations with Israel "were more difficult than what I faced during the period of resistance in all its forms".
"However, I did not lose confidence in our people or the Arab nation. It is this confidence which encouraged me to continue negotiating with the Israeli side to reach solutions that would satisfy the Arab and Palestinian masses."
Arafat also agreed with the assessment given by Egyptian Foreign Minister Amr Moussa, who attended the talks between Mubarak and the Palestinian leader, that the situation is expected to become clearer by the end of August.
In a statement to reporters, Moussa said that Egypt was continuing its contacts with both Israel and the United States in order to ensure the implementation of Wye River and restore confidence in the peace process on all tracks. He also backed the Palestinian view that the implementation of Wye should not be linked in any way to final settlement talks. "What we need now is to agree on a mechanism to implement this deal [Wye] regardless of, and separate from, the final settlement talks," Moussa said.
He added that the time had come to an end for earlier Israeli proposals to merge the implementation of Wye with final settlement talks and wondered aloud whether the Israeli government was intentionally trying to delay the implementation of the deal. "Palestinian-Israeli negotiations are not going to last forever and the two sides could reach an agreement in the coming few days," he said.
In earlier statements, Moussa expected greater activity in regional peacemaking at the beginning of next month, which he described as "the new political season", following the long summer holidays.