Israel signals setback after talks with PLO

January 11, 1994|By Doug Struck | Doug Struck,Staff Writer

TABA, Egypt -- Israeli officials yesterday suggested that negotiations for the start of Palestinian autonomy have been set back two months and repeated warnings Israel may ignore the deadlines for withdrawal of its troops.

"There are no sacred dates in the agreement" signed in Washington with the Palestine Liberation Organization, said Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, repeating a comment he made one month ago.

Israel was supposed to begin withdrawing from the West Bank town of Jericho and the Gaza Strip on Dec. 13 and complete the pullback by April 13. The first deadline passed when negotiations stalled over details.

At the resumption of the talks here yesterday, Israel's chief negotiator acknowledged that the talks did not pick up where they ended two weeks ago in Cairo, as Israel had demanded.

"We resumed where we left off nearly two months ago," said Amnon Shahak. "I cannot point out any impressive progress."

Israeli officials have been predicting that the negotiations may now take months. The Palestinians insist the agreement can be reached in two or three weeks if both sides are sincere.

Israel and the Palestinians differ over the boundaries of the Jericho area from which Israelis are to withdraw and over who will control border crossings.

It is unclear which side sees advantage in slowing down the talks. Israel has complained that PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat has undermined his representatives at the talks and reneged on understandings. But Israel, too, seems to have pulled out long lists of new issues it now says must be resolved.

Nabil Shaath, chief negotiator for the Palestinians, reacted sharply to Israeli suggestions that the final deadline for withdrawal may be missed.

Israel "is playing havoc with the whole agreement," he said. "It is a sad tragedy for any party to claim publicly he wants to violate the agreement. . . . Rather than talk about delaying it, for the good will of our people, it is important that we commit ourselves to the agreement in letter and in spirit."

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