Accord Expected to Boost Mideast Talks : Diplomacy: Israelis, Jordanians and the Palestinians appear ready to get down to business on Monday.
With an arcane dispute over the status of Palestinian delegates nearly settled, Israeli officials predicted Friday that the Middle East peace talks will show enough progress to prevent a total breakdown--even if they don’t get much beyond slogans for a year.
The current round of negotiations recessed Friday and will also be inactive today to observe Muslim and Jewish days of rest. But the chiefs of the Israeli, Jordanian and Palestinian delegations plan to meet Sunday to finish papering over a procedural squabble that marked the first week of talks.
If substantive negotiations between Israel and the joint Jordanian-Palestinian delegation begin Monday, as all sides now expect, the bilateral phase of the U.S.-sponsored Middle East peace conference finally would be under way.
Israel met separately this week with Syrian and Lebanese delegations, and those talks are scheduled to continue Monday.
No one anticipates a breakthrough for months. But U.S. officials are pleased that the implacable enemies are talking instead of fighting, even if the mood is sometimes frosty. Israeli officials, who talked to a small group of reporters Friday, shared that assessment.
Asked to foresee the status of talks next December, one member of the Israeli delegation dealing with Syria said: “A year from now, I think we will still be locked in negotiations with the Syrians, but it will have gone beyond the slogans.”
Viewed from one angle, the Israeli-Syrian talks have been totally unproductive. According to both sides, the delegates are talking past each other. The Syrians demand that Israel agree to return the Golan Heights, which Israel took from Syria in the 1967 Middle East War, before talks can even begin on any other subject. And the Israelis insist that Syria agree to negotiate all issues, including the status of the strategic mountain ridge, with the objective of producing a peace treaty.
But looked at another way, the Syrian-Israeli negotiations are astonishing. Although there have been no significant compromises, the adversaries are holding what both sides describe as businesslike--if icy--meetings. The three sessions this week represent three-quarters of the total number of face-to-face discussions ever held between Israeli and Syrian officials. The only other meeting was a purely procedural one held Nov. 3 in Madrid.
When this round of talks began Wednesday, participants and outside observers agreed that the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations held the most promise for early progress. But that channel was blocked for three days as the chiefs of the Israeli, Jordanian and Palestinian delegations haggled over such issues as the difference between “working groups” and “subcommittees.”
The Arabs wanted to divide their joint delegation into Jordanian and Palestinian task forces to demonstrate they are two distinct peoples. The Israeli position was that the delegation must stay together to avoid giving the Palestinians a separate status that could later be cited as precedent for creation of a Palestinian state.
By the time the talks ended Thursday, the delegates were very close to agreement on a formula that would fuzz the fundamental issue enough so that both sides could claim victory.