The US attempted to revive the flagging Arab-Israeli peace talks during a tour of the Middle East by US Secretary of State Warren Christopher in late April. The visit included meetings with PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat and Israeli Foreign Affairs Minister Shimon Peres on 27-28 April before Christopher travelled on to Damascus to meet Syria’s President Asad.
PLO negotiators in Cairo are hoping that Christopher will lean on Israel to cede more authority to the Palestinian self-rule authority. The two sides at the Cairo talks are still stuck on the issue of jurisdiction in the self-rule area.
Negotiators have agreed that foreigners arrested by Israelis near Jewish settlements in Gaza will be interrogated by the Israelis before being handed over to the Palestinians. However, they have still not agreed about how to deal with crimes perpetrated by Palestinians against Israeli settlers.
Israel has agreed to a timetable for the release of a further 3,500 Palestinian detainees, in addition to the release of 5,000 already agreed, Reuters reported on 26 April. But this would not include the people who have carried out the most recent bombings in Afula and Hadera in Israel.
Arrangements for the deployment of 9,000 Palestinian police are almost complete. Donor nations are to meet on 2 May in Cairo to discuss funding for the force. The meeting will be chaired by Norway, and will include officials from the PLO, Israel, the US, the EU, Russia, Egypt and Japan.
Christopher’s regional tour was scheduled to take in Damascus after a 27 April visit to Israel. He was expected to try to break the deadlock over the Golan Heights and to carry papers stating the Israeli position on the Golan to the Syrian president. Syrian media gave a guarded welcome to comments by Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin earlier in April saying he was willing to dismantle settlements in the occupied area in return for peace. Syrian officials have emphasised that all settlements should be dismantled.
Russia’s attempts to take a higher profile in the peace talks have borne little fruit. Arafat and Rabin both visited Moscow in late April. However, Russia’s call for a second round of talks in the same style as the Madrid talks which began in 1991 was not greeted with enthusiasm by the Israeli prime minister.