- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 9, 2000

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat agreed yesterday to resume negotiations in Washington with the aim of restarting the final peace talks that stalled Feb. 3.

The decision to resume talks in the United States came in the second day of a meeting between the Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

Today, they will hold a third day of talks after meeting the past two days on Palestinian soil and in Israel.

State Department Spokesman James P. Rubin said yesterday that talks in Washington would be held later this month between senior Israeli and Palestinian negotiators.

The goal will be to try to work out the obstacles to a final handover of West Bank land to the Palestinians and clear the way for a final resolution of issues blocking a peace pact.

"It's our view that this is the best way to give a kick-start to the process," Mr. Rubin told reporters yesterday.

"But we recognize that it's an extraordinarily difficult process and even a good kick-start might not get it going."

An Israeli source said, "We're coming back this month to Washington at the professional level our chief negotiator Oded Oran and Yasser Abed Rabo for the Palestinians."

Analysts said that the Palestinians have been seeking greater U.S. involvement, hoping that American pressure to achieve a settlement would force the Israelis to yield on key controversial issues.

One analyst, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that moving the talks from the Middle East to Washington was a confidence-building measure aimed at the Palestinians, who fear Israel is digging in its heels over key issues.

Mr. Rubin said yesterday that the United States would not play as big a role as it has in previous talks.

The main issue on the table in peace talks which have been stalled since Feb. 3 involves what blocks of West Bank land will be in the 6.1 percent of the occupied territories to be turned over to Palestinian control in the coming weeks.

The Palestinians want Israel to include the Jerusalem suburb of Abu Dis, a town which holds a new Palestinian hall which they see as a possible parliament building.

The Israelis are unwilling to give the Palestinians a foothold so close to the heart of Jerusalem.

Israelis say that the Wye agreement allows them to decide which chunks of land the Palestinians get.

In recent talks with U.S. Middle East negotiator Dennis Ross, the Israelis agreed to offer the Palestinians a choice of any 6.1 percent they want from 10 percent of the remaining West Bank land in Israeli hands, the Israeli source said.

Once that land is handed over, the Palestinians will have 40 percent of the West Bank. However that land will still be divided into blocks divided by land under Israeli control the map looks like the West Bank has a bad rash.

The Palestinians are to receive one more, final land handover which former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said would be 1 percent of the West Bank, but the current administration has not yet defined its size or location.

The talks are also intended to achieve a framework agreement which was originally to have been completed by February.

The Palestinians have said they would just as soon move directly from the 6.1 percent handover to talks on a the final status agreement which involves highly contentious issues: the status of Jerusalem, possible return of Arab refugees from the 1967 and 1948 wars, Jewish settlements in the West Bank, water and control over the borders.

That final agreement is to be achieved in September.

"Israel has red lines which we will not give in on," said the Israeli source. "The big [Jewish] settlement blocs will stay in Israel and we will keep early warning along the Jordan River facing east."

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