Palestinians break off talks with Israel: Right-winger defeats Teddy Kollek to become mayor of Jerusalem

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The Independent Online
THE Palestinians suspended autonomy negotiations with Israel indefinitely yesterday, demanding a 'general military withdrawal' from the occupied Gaza Strip and not simply redeployment. But Israel's chief delegate, Amnon Shahak, urged the Palestine Liberation Organisation to return to the negotiating table, saying 'the plan is not sacrosanct'.

Nabil Shaath, his PLO counterpart, announced: 'We are suspending the negotiations to go back to our leadership and allow our Israeli counterparts to go back to their leadership. The (13 September) agreement provided for a withdrawal from Gaza, not within the Gaza Strip. It is a withdrawal (that we) agreed and not a redeployment.'

The dispute arose at the Israeli-Palestinian talks being held at the Red Sea resort of Taba after Israel presented its first outline proposals for withdrawal, which detailed how the army would pull back from Palestinian refugee camps and towns in Gaza to three areas near by, where Jewish settlements are located. The areas would be surrounded by electric fences and razor wire, and linked to Israel by special protected roads.

In addition, Israel proposed that it have observation posts along Gaza's Mediterranean coast and control of the waters offshore.

Hassan Asfur, a leading negotiator for the Palestine Liberation Organisation, said the proposals were 'unacceptable'.

However, despite the strong words, sources close to both sides believe the disagreement will be resolved. A certain amount of manoeuvring at the negotiating table is inevitable, but observers believe that the momentum behind the outline agreement remains powerful enough to ensure that compromise is achieved. Furthermore, while detailed discussions about how to implement the Israeli-Palestinian self-rule deal are held in Taba, high-level contacts between the two sides continue behind closed doors. These are being conducted inside the secret channel which led to the original accord: it is here that major barriers can be overcome.

Concern at senior levels appears to centre far more on economic issues and on the lack of any Palestinian system for command and control to take over in the occupied territories, than on the nature and extent of the withdrawal.

The Palestinian objections on the withdrawal issue may have been hardened in recent days by rising concern about settler violence against Palestinians. While Israel is determined to protect settlers living in the occupied territories by maintaining a military presence around them, Palestinian leaders are complaining that no attention is being paid to the threat to Palestinians from settlers.

This has come to the fore following the rampage by settlers on the West Bank, seeking revenge for the killing on Friday of a settler, apparently by Hamas, the Islamic Resistance Movement. The settlers closed off roads, burnt Palestinian cars and set fire to a school-room in a Palestinian refugee camp.