Walking the talk.

Author:Darwish, Adel
Position:Current Affairs - The Israeli-Palestinian negotiations on land return

The latest round of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations in mid-August ended in stalemate. Agreement over land return is, as ever, proving easier to talk about than to achieve

The Israeli Palestinian honeymoon was short lived; in early August, just weeks into its term of office, the internationally welcomed new Labor led government had its first major disagreement with the Palestinians; in mid-August negotiations over land returns stalled completely.

The newly defrosted 1998 land-for-security accord, known as the Wye river Memorandum, under which Israel agreed to withdraw from parts of the West Bank - captured from Jordan in 1967 - largely kept on ice during the Netanyahu years, faced its first crisis under the new Prime Minister Ehud Barak.

The differences on both sides were over how the Wye accord should be put into practice. The office of Mr Barak, issued a frustrated statement accusing the Palestinians of inflexibility in rejecting his plan to wrap the final stage of West Bank withdrawal into permanent peace negotiations. Meanwhile, Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader, accused Mr Barak of "running away" from his commitments to pull Israeli forces out of the West Bank and his refusal to commit himself to immediate implementation of the entire Wye River accord.

Only a day earlier, Mr Barak told his cabinet Israeli troop withdrawals from the West Bank could begin on 1 October, with other aspects of the accord beginning by the start of this month [September]. He said this timetable would be regardless of whether the Palestinians accepted his request to modify the Wye agreement. The US-brokered accord requires Israel to make phased troop withdrawls from 13.1 per cent of the West Bank, in return for the Palestinians taking steps against militants, among other measures.

Later in the day, a meeting between Israeli representative, Gilad Sher, and chief Palestinian negotiator: Saeb Erakat, broke up in disagreement. The Palestinian team was summoned for consultations with Arafat, who was in Cairo at the time.

"Imagine if it had been us trying to renegotiate on an already agreed and signed deal," said Erakat, "the Israelis would have said 'the Palestinians are not serious and cannot be trusted'."

According to Israeli officials, Mr Barak fears that a pullout from 7.1 per cent of the West Bank would isolate some Jewish settlements and increase friction in the area. The pullout would certainly leave pockets of armed Jewish settlers, some of them known...

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