|Editions | myCNN | Video | Audio | Headline News Brief | Feedback||
Israeli envoy to present written reaction to peace proposal
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A top Israeli diplomat plans to present a six-page document to the United States Friday, outlining a proposal for a possible peace deal with the Palestinians.
The document, addressed to U.S. President Bill Clinton's National Security Adviser, Samuel Berger, details the Israeli government's formal response to U.S. parameters of a framework peace deal, Israeli officials told CNN.
The document was brought to Washington by Israeli negotiator Gilead Sher, who arrived Thursday and met in the evening with senior U.S. officials at a Washington hotel.
The opening comments of the document are "supportive of the president's desire to move forward and of the parameters" verbally presented by Clinton to Israeli and Palestinian negotiators on December 23 in Washington.
Asked if a peace accord can realistically be established before Clinton leaves office, Sher said, "That is exactly why I am here ..."
'Specific ideas and concepts'
According to one Israeli official, the document is the first time the Israeli government has put in writing details of a possible Israeli proposal based on so-called final status issues.
The document offers "specific Israeli ideas and concepts" based on the U.S. framework and is a demonstration of the Israeli desire "to move forward," the Israeli official told CNN.
Responding to the report of the Israeli document, Hassan Abdel Rahman, the Palestinians' chief representative to Washington, said it was too early to say what it means.
"It depends on the substance," Rahman said. "If it's consistent with what's required to achieve an agreement -- it's positive. (But) if it's just repeated old Israeli positions then it could be a step backwards."
One former senior U.S. Middle East negotiator, Robert Pellatreau, said the Israeli proposal could be a positive development because it "shows they're really digging in to what the U.S. has presented ... It's more than just a superficial reaction."
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak dispatched Sher to Washington after Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat offered a conditional acceptance Wednesday of the American proposals following a meeting with Clinton.
Palestinian officials told CNN that they could send a representative of their own to Washington later this week if the situation warrants.
The meetings with Arafat were part of a final push for peace by Clinton, who leaves office January 20 after eight years in office.
Arafat, arriving at his Gaza headquarters on Thursday following a meeting with Arab League foreign ministers in Cairo, Egypt, said that he hoped Israelis and Palestinians could finalize a deal "before Clinton finishes his term as Clinton has promised to exert all of his efforts."
In Cairo, Arab League foreign ministers made clear that they would support no concessions on the right of Palestinian refugees -- and their descendants -- who fled or were forced to flee when Israel was founded in 1948 to return to lands in the Jewish state.
"The committee expressed unanimously its backing, support for the Palestinian position," said Egyptian Foreign Minister Amre Moussa following the meeting, who said that the right of return was of concern to all Arabs, and not just Palestinians.
"I would like to point out that Lebanon has totally rejected the idea of resettling the Palestinian refugees (permanently) and insisted on the right of the Palestinians to return," Moussa said. "We believe that this is a sacred right."
The right of return for the refugees -- 3.7 million across the region, according to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East -- has long been one of the thorniest issues in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
The Israelis, fearing that a massive influx of Palestinians into Israel would destroy the fabric of their country, have flatly rejected any proposal allowing the refugees to return.
Clinton's proposals reportedly called for the Palestinians to drop their demand for the right of return in return for sovereignty over a disputed hilltop in east Jerusalem that is sacred to both Jews and Muslims.
But Barak, facing a re-election vote on February 6, has repeatedly said he would sign no peace deal that would hand over sovereignty of the Western Wall, the sole remaining piece of the ancient Jewish Temple on the side of the Temple Mount, known to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif.
The site was the focal point of the start of the latest round of violence between the Israelis and Palestinians, which began on September 28.
Since that time, 328 Palestinians have been killed, according to the Palestine Red Crescent Society, along with 45 Israeli Jews and 13 Israeli Arabs, according to the Israel Defense Forces.
Each side blames the other for the continuation of the violence and insists that no peace is possible until it stops.
Given the wide gaps that still separate the two sides on so many key issues, some Palestinian and Israeli officials alike were pessimistic that a peace deal could be reached in the time left for Clinton's term. (More on the Palestinian concerns).
Palestinian Council member Hanan Ashrawi told CNN that the short timeframe made any kind of agreement unrealistic.
"It will take quite a large stretch of the imagination to expect an agreement, a resolution of a decades-long conflict, in a few days, when for eight years President Clinton was unable to bring about a resolution," she said. "I don't think under duress and an artificially imposed deadline and the pressure of time, you're going to come up with an agreement that will withstand the test of time and test of legitimacy."
Israelis, too, were skeptical that an agreement could be reached before President-elect George W. Bush takes office.
"It is beyond human power to complete the negotiations in such a short time," Israeli Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami said on Israel radio.
Ben-Ami said later, during a Berlin news conference with German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, that he believed the two sides could reach "some fundamental declaration of principles which can form the basis of an agreement" by January 20, according to Reuters news agency.
Arafat meets Mubarak, will consult Arab ministers on U.S. peace proposals
Palestinian National Authority
|Back to the top||
© 2001 Cable News Network. All Rights Reserved.|
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines.