Hurd can see road forward in Mid-East

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The Independent Online
(First Edition)

AFTER talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders yesterday, the British Foreign Secretary, Douglas Hurd, said he was convinced that the two sides would find a way to move forward in the stalled negotiations on transfer of authority in the Gaza Strip and the Jericho area.

However, Mr Hurd was told by Shimon Peres, the Israeli Foreign Minister, that Israel would continue to take a hard line over who controls border crossings into Gaza and Jericho the issue which has caused the deadlock in the talks.

Mr Peres said Israel insisted on a 'veto' over who enters these areas when they achieve a measure of self-rule, according to British officials. The Palestinians are demanding that they have the final say over who enters. Mr Peres implied that the other issue of disagreement the size of Jericho was not such a serious problem.

In meetings with Palestinian leaders in east Jerusalem, Mr Hurd was told of growing scepticism about whether the agreement will be implemented. The Foreign Secretary will have a chance to gauge this concern for himself today when he visits the Gaza Strip. If Israeli withdrawal was simply to be a 'reorganisation of the occupation', Palestinians would not stand for it, he was told by the leaders.

Mr Hurd arrived in Israel amid confusion over whether the negotiations will re-start. The Foreign Secretary, who began his visit in Lebanon and will continue to Amman, made clear that he is not a messenger, saying Britain had no major role to play in the negotiations.

Both Israelis and Palestinians continued yesterday to accuse the other of failing to stand by the Declaration of Principles, signed in September. The log-jam centres on a dispute over what was agreed at the last talks in Cairo. Israel insists that the talks ended in outline agreement, which must now form the basis of new negotiation. However, Palestinians insist there was no agreement and accuse Israel of trying to impose pre-conditions.

Since the Cairo talks broke up last month there has been a series of reports in the Israeli media of the inability of the PLO chairman, Yasser Arafat, to conduct negotiations in a proper way. Lebanese leaders voiced criticisms of Mr Arafat during their meetings with Mr Hurd in Beirut on Monday.

yesterday with Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli Prime Minister, and Mr Peres, no personal attacks were made upon Mr Arafat, according to British officials. The Israeli leaders suggested to Mr Hurd that they believed Mr Arafat was behaving as a clever tactician, trying to exploit what he perceives as Israel's need for a deal soon. Mr Peres suggested that Mr Arafat may be taking a tough stance in order to prove to the Arab world that he can get the best deal.

Mr Hurd said:"Noone questions Mr Arafat's leadership. Noone says it should or should not be changed. Of course there are problems. The PLO is moving from being a body in exile into a body which takes responsibility for administering Gaza and Jericho."

The Israeli leaders made clear that although Mr Arafat may be 'maddening' they saw see 'no viable alternative' to him Mr Arafat as a negotiating partner, say according to British officials.