Arafat, Barak take steps to restart peace talks

Palestinian protests interrupted negotiations


JERUSALEM - Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat are taking steps to revive their stalled peace talks, overshadowed for the past week by Israel's abrupt withdrawal from Lebanon.

Barak is to fly to Germany tomorrow to meet with President Clinton and discuss the "implications" of the withdrawal and "ways to advance the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations in particular," the prime minister's office announced yesterday.

Arafat, meanwhile, has restrained the often-violent Palestinian demonstrations of recent weeks, which had prompted Israel to suspend the talks.

His emissaries were working last night to persuade hunger-striking Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails to resume eating in exchange for concessions on visitation rights and other issues, Palestinian sources said.

Officials on both sides fear that the death of a hunger striker could detonate a new round of violence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Negotiations are expected to resume this weekend or sooner, though it is not yet clear where. Nor is it clear what new concessions either side is willing to make to break what Arafat termed Monday the "impasse" in the talks.

Negotiations in Stockholm, Sweden, on drafting an outline for a final peace settlement were suspended last week after violent protests in Gaza and the West Bank on behalf of Palestinian prisoners.

The elastic deadline for the framework agreement was most recently extended to June 23, but negotiators on both sides have expressed skepticism that they could resolve all outstanding issues in the next three weeks.

Arafat said last week's sudden Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon has made it harder for him to compromise on territorial claims and the highly sensitive issues of Palestinian refugees and Jerusalem.

"My public sees Hezbollah" - the guerrilla movement that fought against Israel's presence in southern Lebanon - "as heroes who succeeded in getting the Israeli army out of Lebanon, and believes that that is the route we should take as well," he told Dalia Izik, Israel's environment minister, on Monday.

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