Britain urged to take third party role in Mid-East

Oslo accord veteran says that now US has left the scene, a vacancy exists for the role of Arab-Israeli mediator
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The Independent Online
One of the architects of the Oslo peace accords spoke in London yesterday of the need to launch a new peace initiative in Israel, and argued that Britain could play a leading role.

Yossi Beilin, a former deputy foreign minister, said: "Meeting with Robin Cook and others, I see an interest in Britain being involved in the Middle East. People understand the ramifications of an explosion."

The deal proposed by Mr Beilin is a half-way house package, which would create a political ceasefire, while at the same time allowing both sides to avoid committing themselves as talks continue behind closed doors.

He insisted it was essential that such talks remain secret: "Reporting daily would be a prescription for failure." The existence of such talks, would, however, be public knowledge - unlike the talks which led to the breakthrough in the Oslo peace deal.

In practice, however, it is therefore difficult to imagine that potentially damaging leaks would not take place from both sides.

Mr Beilin suggested that Israel should "pause" for six months with its plans to build housing at the site known to Israelis as Har Homa. The Palestinian leadership, for its part, would do everything in its power to stop street violence. During that period, further talks would take place on redeployment of Israeli troops, together with "negotiations on a final solution" - including an agreement on borders.

Mr Beilin argued that such a package deal might "fulfil the interests and expectations of both sides". But, he said, it was impossible "without a third party".

This third party, he suggested, could be Britain, now that the United States has in effect withdrawn from its active role in the Middle East peace process. -"The Americans have left the region - and have just left us some phone numbers where we can reach them." Without the intervention of a third party, Mr Beilin said, "I see the danger of an explosion".

Mr Beilin said that the British government had given a cautious welcome to his proposals. "Nobody said: `It's a wonderful idea, let's roll up our sleeves.' But nobody threw me out of the window." He was sceptical about the chances of survival of the hawkish Benjamin Netanyahu and his government, saying: "It's almost a miracle that it still exists. The fragmented coalition could fall apart, any day." But he added a cautionary note, too: "Because it's so weak, it could survive."

Mr Beilin held meetings this week with Mr Cook, the Foreign Secretary, and with Clare Short, Secretary of State for International Development. Israel was furious at recent comments by Ms Short on Palestinians, where she spoke of "the unfairness of the world's expectation that [Palestinians] should make sacrifices to make up for the evil done by Europeans during the Holocaust". As a sign of official displeasure, the Israeli ambassador stayed away from the ministerial meeting.

Hebron, West Bank (AP) -- Palestinian demonstrators yesterday hurled stones, fire bombs and homemade explosives at Israeli soldiers.

Twenty rioters were injured by rubber bullets fired by Israeli troops, including a 12-year-old child left partially paralysed by a head wound.

Palestinians threw a pipe bomb into the courtyard of an elementary school that had been seized by soldiers as a lookout. There were no pupils in the building because of of the summer holidays.