Israel's Peace Clock Drags Israel Faces Deadlocks, Deadlines, and Too Many Deaths in Its Quest for Peace with Palenstinians and Syria. Recent Events Bog Down Negotiations
John Battersby, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor
ISRAEL'S peace efforts, stalled on both the Palestinian and Syrian tracks, could soon become a hostage of the country's internal politics.
With less than two years to Israel's next election, Israeli officials are already jockeying for position with a host of conflicting solutions for the ailing Israel-PLO peace accord.
Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said yesterday that the election campaign would be in full swing by the beginning of 1996. (Mr. Peres did not rule out running in the primaries for the country's first directly elected prime minister.)
Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat will hold talks next week to try to end a deadlock over how to proceed with the ailing Israel-PLO peace accord.
The 16-month-old accord is facing renewed political pressure following the deaths of three Palestinian policemen in a shootout with Israeli soldiers in Gaza this week and a growing conflict between Palestinians and Jewish settlers on the West Bank.
Negotiations between Israel and Syria have also deadlocked. But secret negotiations between Syrian and Israeli officials are continuing in the search for an accord whereby Syria would curb hostilities against Israel in return for an Israeli withdrawal from the Golan.
At a recent summit in Alexandria, Egypt, the leaders of Egypt and Saudi Arabia backed Syrian President Hafez al-Assad in his demand for an unconditional Israeli withdrawal from the Golan.
But Peres said that unless Israel reaches an accord with Syria by the middle of the year, there would be little chance of an agreement before Israel's general election scheduled to take place by November 1996.
"Syria cannot expect us to adopt their position before negotiations have started," Peres said, indicating that Israel was ready to negotiate a withdrawal from the Golan.
Peres noted that Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak believed that Syria was committed to peace and had urged Israel to be more patient. "Whether a miracle will happen or not, I don't know," he said.
In another potential blow for the peace process, senior Palestinian negotiator Nabil Shaath has threatened to quit unless agreement can be reached soon on the release of about 5,000 Palestinian political prisoners who still remain behind bars.
"Holding thousands of Palestinian prisoners is an unforgiveable crime...," Mr. Shaath said Tuesday at a joint news conference with Peres after Israel-PLO talks in Cairo failed to achieve a breakthrough.
Mr. Rabin is also facing mounting problems with a disillusioned Israeli public. His ruling Labor Party is in an increasing state of disarray as his coalition government loses support at the polls. The most recent poll conducted for Israeli television found that if elections were held today, Rabin's Labor Party coalition would no longer be assured of a working majority. …