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World - Middle East

Israel, Palestinians to resume direct negotiations

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In this story:

July 13, 1998
Web posted at: 10:46 p.m. EDT (0246 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Israel and the Palestinians will resume direct negotiations when Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat returns from China this week, the U.S. State Department announced Monday.

"The idea is direct engagement," said State Department spokesman James Rubin.

The goal is to remove the hurdles that are blocking a second Israeli troop withdrawal from the West Bank. Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu aren't expected to take part in person, Rubin said.

Speculation centered on Israeli Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai and Mahoud Abbas, Arafat's top deputy, as the heads of Israeli and Palestinian delegations in face-to-face talks.

"In the absence of direct, face-to-face discussions between the two sides it isn't going to be possible to resolve this problem," Rubin said.

Arafat salutes during Jiang's welcoming ceremony in Tiananmen Square Monday  

However, Rubin sharply criticized Israel for saying that the Palestinians must make more concessions, saying the Palestinians had accepted a U.S. plan involving an Israeli pullback.

Rubin said the Palestinians have "gone a long way to combat terrorism" and that it was wrong for Israel to say "the ball is in the Palestinians' court."

China offers support to Palestinians

The United States has pushed for Israel to withdraw from an additional 13 percent of the West Bank, but Netanyahu has resisted, demanding more Palestinian action against terrorism.

Netanyahu wants the Palestinians to extradite to Israel some Palestinians terrorists and he wants the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) to remove language in its 34-year-old charter that call for the dismantling of Israel as a Jewish state.

In China, Arafat kicked off a three-day visit by meeting with Chinese President Jiang Zemin, who told him that China supported the Palestinian's position in the stalled peace talks.

"China will continue to support the efforts of the Palestinian people to regain their legitimate rights, including the establishment of an independent state," Jiang was quoted as saying by China's official Xinhau news agency.

Arafat's visit follows a May visit to China by Netanyahu. China established relations with Israel in 1992 but has been a traditional backer of the PLO.

Peres and Hussein
Peres and Hussein met Monday  

Jiang also said China is willing to accelerate trade with the Palestinians and encourage Chinese companies to participate in industrial construction in Palestinian areas.

Arafat is due back from China on Thursday.

Egypt supports Palestinian statehood

Meanwhile, Arafat received support from Egypt in his call for Palestinians to unilaterally form a state whatever the outcome of peace talks with Israel.

"Their right to establish a state is an international right," said Egyptian Foreign Minister Amr Moussa said Monday in Washington where he was meeting with U.S. officials to strengthen ties with the United States.

Israel has already accepted a Palestinian state by recognizing the Palestinians as a people and the PLO as their representative, Moussa said.

The Oslo agreement, the 1993 accord that set up peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, provides for statehood, he said. Moussa also blamed Israel for the stalemate in the peace process, saying it is a "recipe for a major disaster, for violence."

A senior Israeli official said Moussa's comments undermine the Oslo agreement.

"Any one-sided decisions in this direction can only ... make it more difficult to achieve a peaceful co-existence," said Netanyahu adviser David Bar-Illan.

Peres: U.S. should stay involved in peace talks

In Jordan, former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres said the United States should remain involved in the peace negotiations between the Palestinians and Israel.

A U.S. "retreat" from the negotiations would be a setback to the peace process, Peres said.

"The American role is basically a positive one and if the Americans retreat from the Middle East, then the Middle East will not become richer politically, or better," he said.

Peres was in Jordan to address a U.N. seminar on leadership and talks with Jordan's King Hussein.

Peres said Netanyahu's government was not seeking a peace deal with the Palestinians "as energetically and as rightly" as it should.

"I am optimistic in the longer run," he said. "But (in) the coming few months, I can foresee some real problems and troubles."

Copyright 1998   The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


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