Just one week before the date set by the co-sponsors, the United States and Russia, for a resumption of the talks, Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli Prime Minister, and President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt meet in Ismailiya today to hammer out a formula that might finally be acceptable to the Palestinians and their Arab partners. Mr Mubarak was in Cairo last night consulting Yasser Arafat, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, and Faisal Husseini, the PLO leader from the occupied territories.
Two other Palestinian leaders, Hanan Ashrawi and Haidar Abdel-Shafi, left for Washington to ensure positions were co-ordinated with the US. The decision on whether to go will be taken in Damascus at the weekend when Arab foreign ministers meet. The only people who did not appear to have been consulted were the deportees, whose exile in December led to the stalling of talks. 'We will take the bullets of the Jewish enemy in our chests and will never be silenced about the treachery by the Palestinian delegation,' said Abdul Aziz al-Rantisi, a deportee spokesman.
The apparent new optimism over the talks was immediately tempered in Jerusalem by news of renewed violence in southern Lebanon, where three Israeli soldiers were killed in a bomb ambush carried out by the pro-Iranian Hizbollah gunmen.
The most substantial suggestion for luring the Palestinians back to the talks, put by the US, will allow Mr Husseini, an east Jerusalem resident, and the most prominent Palestinian leader in the occupied territories, to sit on the peace delegation, thereby giving a new priority to east Jerusalem in the talks, and at the same time strengthening the Palestinian team.
Israeli ministers and officials have insisted that the admission of Mr Husseini to the peace team would be only 'symbolic'. However, for Israel to agree to it constitutes a significant climbdown over one its most fiercely held positions. Until now Mr Husseini, though de facto leader of the peace team, has been forced to loiter off-stage, unable to take part officially due to Israel's refusal to talk to anyone from east Jerusalem, for fear it would be taken as a signal of flexibility over the status of the annexed Arab district.