Muted hopes for peace

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The Independent Online
THE SECOND Israeli-Egyptian summit in a year closed yesterday with words of optimism about the chances of re-starting the Middle East peace talks, but with no new ideas about how to achieve progress if the negotiations do resume.

Neither the Egyptian President, Hosni Mubarak, nor the Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, gave details of the formula they discussed to encourage the Palestinians and their Arab partners to return.

Mr Rabin stated his government's acceptance that the talks should be based on United Nation Resolution 242, which calls for the return by Israel of territories occupied in 1967 in exchange for a peace treaty, but he gave no hint of how much of the occupied territories he would be ready to return.

Asked how far he was prepared to withdraw from the Golan Heights in return for a peace treaty with Syria, Mr Rabin said: 'We will not negotiate the dimension before knowing for what kind of peace. There is an inter-relation between the purpose (of peace) and the dimension of the withdrawal.'

The laborious diplomacy which has been under way for weeks to break the deadlock in the peace talks now shifts focus to Damascus, where Palestinian leaders and Arab foreign ministers meet at the weekend to decide whether to attend the next round in Washington, due to begin on Tuesday.

When Mr Mubarak and Mr Rabin met in Cairo in August, it was amid euphoria about hopes for an early agreement on Palestinian autonomy, which Mr Rabin had predicted would be achieved within six or nine months of his June election. The low-key nature of the second summit showed how much lower expectations now are.