Arafat Wants U.S. to Salvage 'Faltering' Talks
Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat Friday requested American and other outside intervention to break yet another impasse in negotiations between Israel and the PA.
Talks between Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak failed to yield an anticipated breakthrough on Thursday and Arafat said those talks were now "faltering."
"We ask officially for European, American and Arab intervention," Arafat said after a meeting with the German Defense Minister in Gaza City on Friday.
It was hoped that the Barak-Arafat summit would force progress toward a framework agreement, the deadline for which looms in ten days. But the talks broke down over an interim issue of another Israeli transfer of disputed West Bank territory, scheduled for February 10.
"The negotiations with the Palestinians are tough," Barak said after the Arafat meeting. "There is a lot of tension between us and real gaps between the positions."
The PA refused to accept the maps presented by Barak because they did not include the transfer of Arab neighborhoods around Jerusalem. The Palestinians also accused Israel of trying to dictate how land transfers would be carried out.
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told CNSNews.com the PA did not want to be told what to do but wanted to be consulted like a partner in negotiations. He said Barak had come to the talks with his mind already made up.
Israel has maintained from the beginning that it has the sole right to determine which land it will hand over to the Palestinians. But Erekat accused Barak of trying to please every "extremist" group in Israel.
The land offered to the PA would leave between five and seven Israeli settlements in Judea-Samaria completely isolated and it would leave at least two within a mile of PA-ruled areas. Settler leaders are concerned that this would put residents in those communities in danger.
Barak reportedly cancelled a cabinet meeting scheduled for Sunday, at which he was to have discussed progress in the peace talks. Instead, the prime minister will travel to Jordan for consultations there, his office told CNSNews.com.
More Trouble in South Lebanon
In south Lebanon, Israeli air strikes against Hizb'allah strongholds continued on Friday. Israel fired on a convoy in which a Hizb'allah leader was traveling, lightly wounding him. Fearing a retaliatory attack on its northern communities, Israeli officials opened bomb shelters in the north. However, residents have not been instructed to go underground yet.
The IDF spokesman told CNSNews.com that the Israeli-allied South Lebanese Army (SLA) withdrew from a strategically-placed but vulnerable outpost to positions which offer more protection.
Hizb'allah said in a statement it considered the SLA redeployment a "new victory."
The move comes at the end of a week of intense fighting, which started with the assassination of a senior SLA officer, and later saw three Israelis and one SLA soldier killed.
The escalation of fighting in south Lebanon could further hinder efforts to jump-start Israeli-Syrian talks, which broke down last month after two rounds.