JERUSALEM -- Israeli negotiators headed yesterday night for another round of Middle East peace talks as senior officials here predicted that Arab delegations would also journey to Washington before long despite having delayed their travels to protest Israel's planned expulsion of 12 Palestinians from its occupied territories.
"They will come," said Health Minister Ehud Olmert, who is close to Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir. "Don't worry."
Other officials accused Palestinian leaders of using the expulsion order as an excuse to "blackmail the United States," as one of them put it, and thereby perhaps gain favorable concessions at the peace negotiations, scheduled to resume tomorrow after a three-week hiatus.
"They're trying to gain more American involvement and pressure
on Israel, which they failed to get at the first Washington round," one official said. "They'll show up. They don't want the peace process to stop. They're the ones with the most to lose, and they understand it very well."
Despite the Israelis' public confidence, it seemed increasingly unlikely that the next round of talks would start on schedule. Even if they do get going, senior Israeli officials say that they expect the discussions to dwell, as they have thus far, on procedural matters, with substantive issues not coming until a later stage, when Israel hopes to shift the negotiations closer to the Middle East.
Although Palestinian leaders here have said they also expect to show up in Washington, they made no final decision yesterday.
In Cairo today, Yasser Arafat, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization, said he and other Palestinians were debating what to do.
Mr. Arafat met with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, then flew on to Amman for talks with Jordanian officials, as key Arab states continued to hold back their delegations.
A Palestinian leader in East Jerusalem, Faisal Husseini, said a decision would await an expected debate today on the announced deportations by the United Nations Security Council.