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The BBC's Frank Gardner in Jerusalem
"The Palestinian and Israeli peace negotiators are up against near-impossible odds"
 real 28k

The BBC's Stephen Cviic at the UN
"The idea of a UN force has been the subject of heated discussions at the UN for several weeks"
 real 28k

Tuesday, 19 December, 2000, 15:31 GMT
UN rejects Mid-East peace force
Yasser Arafat with picture of the Dome on the Rock
Eyes on the prize: Jerusalem is a key issue
The United Nations Security Council has rejected a Palestinian proposal to establish an international observer force in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Israeli soldiers
More than 300 have died - mainly Palestinians - since September
The Palestinians said they wanted the observer mission to protect the civilian population, but Israel dismissed the plan as a "recipe for long-term instability in the region".

And with France, Russia, the US and the UK abstaining, the motion failed to gather enough votes.

The news comes as Israeli Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami prepares for a last-ditch effort to achieve a Middle East peace deal in the dying days of the Clinton administration.

Talks were scheduled to begin in Washington on Tuesday, but Mr Ben-Ami has yet to leave Israel.

Israel Radio has reported that the talks were being postponed until Wednesday, because of flight disruption at Ben-Gurion airport which has delayed Mr Ben-Ami's departure.

Clinton nudge

The chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, is also expected in Washington for discussions with American officials, which it is hoped may pave the way for face-to-face talks between Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak.

Shlomo Ben-Ami and Ehud Barak
Paving the way: Ben-Ami (left) hopes to move nearer to a deal
President Bill Clinton is trying to nudge both Israelis and Palestinians towards new talks.

But both sides have ruled out substantive negotiations until there is a halt to, or significant reduction in, the bloodshed which has raged since September.

In almost three months of Israel-Palestinian violence, 344 people have died.

Israeli Justice Minister Yossi Beilin, an architect of the 1993 Oslo peace accords, said he did not want to raise expectations, but thought there was a "good chance" of reaching a framework deal in the next few weeks.

And on Tuesday an Israeli cabinet minister floated the idea that Israel might give up sovereignty over a key contested site in East Jerusalem.

"We must make painful concessions, renouncing one way or another our sovereignty over the Temple Mount if necessary," said Israeli Absorption Minister Yuli Tamir.

The site, known to Jews as Temple Mount and to Muslims as the al-Aqsa mosque compound or Haram al-Sharif, is one of the most emotive issues to be settled in any peace agreement.

Bad moment

The idea of a UN observer force in Palestinian areas has been under discussion since early November.

The Palestinians had found considerable support in the UN General Assembly, but not in the Security Council itself.

UN vehicle
Palestinians want a formal UN observer force in the territories
Several countries, including France, the UK and Russia, advised the Security Council to steer clear of the issue.

"The moment is not the most suitable" to send an observer force," said French Ambassador Jean-David Levitte.

"There's no point in driving the car into a brick wall just because it makes a nice noise," was how British ambassador Sir Jeremy Greenstock put it.

Palestinian representative Naser al-Kidwa complained that the United States was openly siding with the Israelis and had applied strong pressure on its Security Council partners.

"It seems the Security Council only becomes active when things have to do with the enemies of the United States," he said.

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See also:

14 Dec 00 | Middle East
Likud clears way for Netanyahu
18 Dec 00 | Middle East
Palestinian economy paralysed
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