Israeli-PA Talks Cut Short Due To Violence
Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - Negotiations in Sweden between Israel and the Palestinian Authority ended abruptly after Prime Minister Ehud Barak ordered his negotiators home because of continuing violent Palestinian protests.
Internal Security Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami and attorney Gilad Sher returned to Israel on Monday for consultations, after a firebomb attack critically injured a two-year old toddler.
"Israel will not accept the continuation of this situation and strongly demands that the PA take steps to end such incidents and prevent them from recurring," Barak said.
But PA negotiator Saeb Erekat was quoted as saying that the recall of the Israeli negotiators from Stockholm "will only complicate the situation."
Shalev Egozi-Shabbat was seriously injured when a firebomb was thrown at her mother's car as they traveled through PA-controlled Jericho on Sunday. Her condition remained serious but stable Monday.
The child's mother and aunt were burned less seriously and her four-year-old brother escaped without injury.
Although this family was just passing through Jericho, many Israelis go there to visit a casino built to attract Israelis and foreign tourists. Although local Palestinians staff the casino, Muslims are forbidden to gamble there.
Jericho remained closed to Israelis and tourists on Monday. Barak said the army had erected roadblocks to "interfere with people's daily lives and the local economy." He said he expected a response from PA Chairman Yasser Arafat.
Barak dispatched his Chief of Staff, Shaul Mofaz, to Arafat two days ago to demand that the PA leader deal with the situation. Arafat responded by saying that he did not want to see an escalation in the situation, although political analysts say he has encouraged the rioting.
Writing in the New York Daily News Sunday, commentator Charles Krauthammer said the violence of the past week was not a spontaneous event.
"It was no Act of God. It was an act of Arafat. The Nobel Peace Prize laureate encouraged it. His Fatah faction [of the PLO] helped organize it. His people responded."
Arafat is using the violence as a tactic, Krauthammer charged.
"He was unleashing the street to get more from the Israelis at the negotiating table. Arafat has done this in the past. Whenever he feels the Israelis are not granting him enough concessions fast enough, he acts."
According to Palestinian medical authorities, six Palestinians have been killed and some 1,000 wounded in rioting during the last nine days, said to be the worst in two years.
Forty-one Israeli soldiers and 22 civilians were wounded during the same period, including one soldier who remains in critical condition after being hit in the head by a bullet, the Israel army spokesman's office confirmed.
At a cabinet meeting on Sunday, Barak told his ministers Israel had made it clear that three Arab villages due to be transferred to full PA control would not be handed over until the PA "proves that it is in full control of its people."
Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said that the U.S. was "concerned" and was following the situation "very closely." But on ABC's This Week on Sunday Albright struck an optimistic note, saying that although the violence "hurts the overall environment," progress was being made in Israeli-PA talks.
"There's work going on," Albright said. "There's still gaps, but there's working going on."
Barak cancelled his planned trip to the U.S. this week in order to deal with the situation with the PA, as well as an escalation in Hizballah attacks in south Lebanon.
An unnamed source quote in The Jerusalem Post said Barak may also have feared that Clinton would pressure Barak to make further territorial concessions.
According to a statement from the Prime Minister's office, talks in the U.S. are designed to "reach understandings with the United States prior to entering into the decisive negotiations on the framework agreement with the Palestinians."
Clinton reportedly is banking on the Stockholm negotiations to bring about an Israeli-PA agreement. There has been a virtual media blackout on those talks, which were secret until 10 days ago, but reports say they are making "progress."
U.S. national security advisor Sandy Berger, who met Barak over the weekend, said that despite the violence, the region was experiencing "the historic process of peacemaking."
Berger urged the sides to continue to negotiate and said there was no such thing as the "status quo" in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
"It cannot find stable equilibrium," said Berger, who is visiting to receive an honorary degree.
Israel and the PA are heading into the final stretch of a seven-year peace-making process, which is intended to bring about an end to more than 50 years of fighting. September 13 is the deadline for the agreement.