Israel Says Interim Peace Talks with the Palestinians are Over
Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - Israeli Prime Minister and Defense Minister Ehud Barak gave the Palestinians until sundown Wednesday, metaphorically speaking, to agree to the Israeli proposal for an altered Wye agreement or else Israel said it will implement the original agreement. At the time of this posting the Palestinians still had not responded to Barak's demand.
The Prime Minister's office released a statement on Wednesday saying that Israeli negotiator Attorney Gilad Sher reported that there are no plans for further meetings with Palestinian negotiators and from Israel's perspective "the negotiations [on altering the Wye Agreement] have concluded."
The government said if it doesn't hear otherwise by the start of this evening's Security cabinet meeting, Barak said he will "conclude that the Palestinians are interested in implementing the Wye Agreement as written, and will act accordingly."
An earlier statement said that the two negotiating teams had met late into last night and were to meet again this morning.
"The primary disagreement between Israel and the Palestinians concerns the issue of a prisoner release," the Prime Minister's office said.
Israel is agreeing to release 350 "security" prisoners and make up the difference in Israel's Wye River Memorandum obligations by releasing "criminal offenders."
The Palestinians have been demanding that Israel free 650 "political" prisoners but sources are saying that the slaying of a young couple earlier in the week, most likely by terrorists, has tempered those demands. Sources now say that the gap between Israel and the Palestinians is much less and that the Palestinians are only demanding the release of 400 "political" prisoners.
Hisham Abdul Razik, in charge the prisoner release issue for the Palestinian Authority, rejected the Israeli compromise, according to Israel Radio, as a "bad proposal."
However, speaking to reporters in The Hague, Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat said he expects a resolution of the matter within a few hours.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is apparently expecting to meet with Barak and Arafat, along with US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in Alexandria, Egypt tomorrow, though this widely reported meeting has yet to be confirmed.
Earlier in the week, Barak said he wouldn't be against such a meeting to sign an agreement on implementation of previous agreements but that is as close as he has come to a confirmation.
What is certain is that Albright is due in Egypt and Israel on Thursday and will meet with Barak and Arafat during the next few days. The US has reportedly taken a step back in its involvement in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians since Barak's visit to Washington in July and experts have said it is unlikely that Albright will become embroiled in any mediating efforts.