Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

8 Sivan 5761 - May 30, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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New U.S. Envoy Starts the Negotiations Ball Rolling
by Yated Ne'eman Staff

U.S. Mideast envoy William Burns, also the current U.S. ambassador to Jordan, has begun his difficult work of trying to end Mideast violence and restart peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, with a flurry of meetings with the two sides. Appointed to try to get the sides to implement the recommendations of the international Mitchell commission, Burns met on Sunday with both Sharon and Arafat, and again on Monday night (after Shavuos) with Sharon.

Last week Israeli premier Ariel Sharon declared a unilateral cease fire after the release of the Mitchell report. The move apparently gave Burns an extra boost at the start of his efforts, but the gesture was rejected by Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat who told Burns on Sunday that he does not accept the cease fire, and later left for Moscow without giving any orders to stop the Palestinian attacks. Arafat's frequent absences from the Palestinian Authority over the last week have been interpreted by some diplomats as an attempt to avoid making decisions on the Mitchell plan.

Israel proposes a formal cease-fire declaration, followed by renewed talks on security coordination, as immediate first steps toward implementing the Mitchell report. The Palestinians are insisting that the cease-fire be part of a package deal linking it with a settlement freeze and the resumption of negotiations based on UN Security Council resolutions 242 and 338.

The Israeli plan includes a detailed timetable for the steps recommended by the Mitchell report: following a cease-fire, security cooperation talks between the sides would resume and a cooling off period of two months would begin. After this, some confidence-building measures would be started and talks about carrying out existing agreements would begin. The steps outlined in this proposal would lead to renewed peace process negotiations between the sides in about three months.

Under the Mitchell report provisions, Israel would declare a freeze on settlement building as one of the confidence building measures. Israel counter-proposes that the settlements issue be deferred until the final status negotiation stage. In the interim, Israel would start implementing existing agreements -- Oslo 2 and the Wye accords. It would carry out the "third phase withdrawal" on the West Bank, which is mandated by the interim accords. Israel has never carried out this third withdrawal. Former prime minister Ehud Barak said it had died "a natural death" after the Camp David summit.

In exchange for a third phase pullout, Israel demands that the PA honor sections in old agreements which require the arrest of terrorists, the collection of illegal firearms, and an end to incitement.

During the meeting on Sunday with the American envoy, which included Prime Minister Sharon, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Defense Minister Ben-Eliezer, Sharon told Burns: "Israel accepts the Mitchell report, including the outlines it set out." However he noted that "Israel cannot exercise restraint without end, and without an absolute end to violence, we won't be able to move forward." Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer told Burns there had been 96 Palestinian terrorist attacks in this period, and a number of Israeli casualties. This includes two car bombs in Yerushalayim and another in Chadera, as well as several shooting murders along the roads.

According to Sharon the first step is to convene the Palestinian-Israeli security coordination committee. The last high-level security meeting was held a month ago. The Palestinians then wanted politicians, such as Saeb Erekat, to participate. Israel wanted the discussions to concentrate solely on security issues and not to seem as a backdoor route to negotiations under fire. In the end, the meetings did not include the politicians.

West Bank Preventive Security Service chief Jibril Rajoub said the Americans are serious about pushing for the implementation of the Mitchell report, since it was in their interest to calm the entire region which is on the verge of an explosion.

Burns will work with Palestinian Legislative Council Speaker Ahmed Qurei who was charged by Arafat with working out the details of a mechanism for implementing the Mitchell report. Saeb Erekat and PA Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo will also work with Burns's team.

A senior Palestinian security officer said that if there is an agreement on the Mitchell report, rejectionists like Hamas and Islamic Jihad will do their best to spoil it, but the PA will do its part to prevent them. He admitted that it will not be easy to calm the Palestinian street, since many in Fatah are opposed to a cease-fire.

According to various economic estimates, the eight-month-old Intifadah in the West Bank and Gaza Strip has cost the Israeli economy some two billion dollars, which amounts to two percent in annual growth. The two sectors of the economy that have been hardest hit are construction and tourism. The violence has also affected investments and exports, although there the extent of the damage has been unclear due to the worldwide tech bust and economic slowdown that has also reduced Israeli economic activity in these areas.


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