- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 24, 2001

A senior Israeli official said yesterday that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has authorized his foreign minister, Shimon Peres, to conduct secretive talks with officials of Yasser Arafats Palestinian Authority.
Mr. Peres, who is due in Washington this weekend, "has been given the green light by Sharon to go ahead" with the private talks, Deputy Foreign Minister Michael Melchior told a small group of reporters in Washington.
"We are talking to the Palestinian leadership, " Mr. Melchior added.
The deputy minister declined to discuss the timing or substance of the planned meetings, saying that if he did so, the talks "would be neither private nor secret." However, the subject is likely to come up this weekend when Mr. Peres meets with Secretary of State Colin Powell and possibly President Bush.
Israeli-Palestinian talks have been taking place at the level of security officials, who met Saturday and again yesterday at the residence of the U.S. ambassador outside Tel Aviv.
Those talks have been aimed primarily at ending a wave of violence that continued yesterday with another car bombing in Israel and a deadly gunfight between Palestinians and Israeli settlers in the Gaza Strip.
Israel also is considering an Egyptian-Jordanian proposal for reviving the peace process, to which Mr. Melchior objected for demanding too much from Israel and not enough from Palestinians to end the violence.
In Israel, an adviser to Mr. Sharon told the Associated Press that the prime minister had reservations about the Arab proposal but had not rejected it outright.
Israeli officials discussed the plan over the weekend with Louis Michel, the visiting foreign minister of Belgium, which assumes the presidency of the European Union in July. The Palestinians have endorsed the proposal.
Under the plan, Israel and the Palestinians would implement a cease-fire deal brokered in October by President Clinton. The initiative also would require Israel to announce a complete freeze on construction in Jewish settlements.
Once peace talks begin, the two sides would try to conclude a treaty within half a year.
The pressure for both sides to find a way out of an 8-month-old cycle of violence continued yesterday when a car bomb exploded near Tel Aviv and a 14-year-old Palestinian boy was killed during a gunfight between Palestinians and Jewish settlers in the Gaza Strip.
The car bomb loaded with nails exploded at Or Yehuda, near Ben Gurion airport, wounding five. It was the fourth terrorist attack inside Israel in two days and followed a car bombing Sunday that killed a doctor in Kfar Saba, 12 miles northeast of Tel Aviv.
The Gaza incident began when Palestinian gunfire during a funeral set off shooting from the Israeli settlement of Gannei Tal. One youth, identified by Reuters news agency as Muhanad Muhared, was killed and 14 others were wounded.
Mr. Melchior was in Washington to address American leaders of the United Jewish Communities, formerly the United Jewish Appeal.
In his remarks to reporters, he called for American Jews not to become "anti-Palestinian." He also argued against calls from some members of Congress to close the Palestine Liberation Organization office in Washington and end all aid to the Palestinian Authority.
"I would not recommend that," he said.
Mr. Melchior supported President Bushs decision to step back from direct involvement in peace talks, saying "if the parties dont want peace, then there is not so much the Americans can do."
He said all the major Middle East peace agreements were reached by the parties themselves, with the United States stepping in later to help stitch together the final draft.
The deputy minister said he had been working personally to improve relations between Israeli Jews and his countrys 20 percent Israeli Arab minority.
Relations have been "a complete disaster" because of long-standing economic and social disparities between the two groups, and have only grown worse since Israeli police killed 13 Israeli Arabs demonstrating in support of the Palestinian uprising last year.
Mr. Melchior said he was proposing a "new triangle" among the State of Israel, the Jewish people abroad and Arabs in Israel, backed by North American Jewish funding and Israeli corporations, which would be aimed at improving Israeli Arab economic life.
He blamed Mr. Arafat for giving "a green light" to terror attacks on Israel. "When I say we dont want to become anti-Palestinian doesnt mean we dont talk about what is going on," said Mr. Melchior.
"Arafat guaranteed at Oslo he would always solve problems at the negotiating table, not through violence."
Mr. Arafat, for his part, said yesterday: "I want to be very clear. We are against any operation targeting civilians, whether they are Israelis or Palestinians."
Mr. Melchior defended Israels reluctance to join Mr. Arafat in his offer for a joint condemnation of violence.
"We are past that," he said, referring to previous demands by the United States and Israel that Mr. Arafat come out against Palestinian attacks on Israelis. "We want to see action."

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