Arafat seeks help to keep peace talks alive

Israel rejects PLO leader's call for international arbitration to save summit
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The Independent Online

Jerusalem - Yasser Arafat said yesterday that he might seek international arbitration to keep the peace process with Israel alive.

The suggestion came after Israeli and Palestine Liberation Organisation negotiators again failed to reach agreement on resuming full peace talks, or on arranging a first summit between Mr Arafat and the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

Asked about the Palestinian President's comments, a spokesman for Mr Netanyahu rejected arbitration and said the Palestinian leader was trying to pressure Israel as negotiators sought a formula for resuming full-fledged peace talks.

"We are committed to the peace process and we are seeking through all means to maintain and protect it and in case it faces difficulties, we are going to seek arbitration," Mr Arafat said. David Bar-Illan, Netanyahu's director of communications, said in response: "We are not going to anything like arbitration."

Mr Bar-Illan added that arbitration ran against the spirit of the 1991 Middle East peace conference that sanctioned direct peace talks between the parties. "I think it is a traditional tactic to pull this kind of thing at the very last minute before an agreement is reached," he said.

"I hope the very plain goal of the negotiations in the past few weeks, namely the achievement of an agreed upon agenda, will be achieved without any serious hitches and that the subsequent meeting between Prime Minister Netanyahu and Arafat will take place," he added.

One PLO official said the Palestinians were seeking a clear commitment from Mr Netanyahu to implement all outstanding issues in Israel-PLO peace deals, such as Israeli troop redeployment from Hebron and other parts of the West Bank.

Israel, he said, proposed to divert to committees for further negotiation issues already agreed in past pacts signed by previous Labour governments. "We asked for reassurances this [Likud] government would honour the agreements, implement them and not seek to fragment them," the official said.

Egypt gave Israel three weeks to start implementing the peace deals or face cancellation of a Middle East economic conference planned for Cairo in November. The Egyptian Ambassador to Israel, Mohammed Bassiouny, said: "The Egyptian government has given the Israeli government three weeks to start implementing five points Israel was committed to and did not implement. Otherwise the economic conference will not be held.

"The five points that Israel must implement are redeployment from Hebron, further redeployments from the West Bank, opening safe passages between Gaza and the West Bank, release of all women prisoners and lifting the closure completely," Mr Bassiouny said.

t Settlers yesterday welcomed the opening of a new road linking the Gush Etzion Jewish settlement on the West Bank with Jerusalem and bypassing Bethlehem. The pounds 29m road, which includes a tunnel and bridge, was criticised by peace activists who say the government spends too much on settlers.