Once again, peace talks flounder

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Yesterday morning, it looked as though the Israeli government and the Palestinians had pulled back from the brink. By last night, Israel was dismissing with anger and disbelief a statement by the Palestinians that was supposed to usher in a ceasefire.

Yesterday morning, it looked as though the Israeli government and the Palestinians had pulled back from the brink. By last night, Israel was dismissing with anger and disbelief a statement by the Palestinians that was supposed to usher in a ceasefire.

Yasser Arafat had agreed with the former Israeli Prime Minister, Shimon Peres, in the early hours that Israel and the Palestinians would simultaneously declare a truce in the violence that has cost 168 lives over the past five weeks. Mr Peres's late-night rescue mission to Gaza followed an escalation of gunfire between Israeli troops and Palestinian militiamen that killed five Palestinians and three Israelis.

A formal statement was expected in the morning but was delayed while a car-bomb in a city market, claimed by Islamic Jihad, killed two Israeli Jews.

Instead of agreeing on a form of words with the Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Barak, Mr Arafat's press office issued a statement claiming the Palestinians had been exercising restraint throughout the crisis.

It called on the masses "to maintain the unity of their stand and to continue their popular expressions through peaceful means". The goals, the statement said, were full Israeli withdrawal to the border that existed before the 1967 war; a right of return to what is now Israel for Palestinian refugees of the 1948 war; and the establishment of a Palestinian state, with Jerusalem as its capital. The Israelis say these are the issues on which they and the Palestinians still have to negotiate. Ministers were persuaded to give Mr Peres, the only Israeli leader Mr Arafat still trusts, one last chance to open a way back to a negotiated peace.

Two questions remain: Was Mr Arafat's statement a face-saving way of calling for a ceasefire? And, if it was, can the Palestinian leadership still rein in the fury of its people?

Comments