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Monday, 24 January, 2000, 16:22 GMT
Final status schedule slipping

Israel has delayed withdrawal from occupied territory

Palestinian and Israeli officials agree that they are unlikely to meet the 13 February deadline for settling a draft framework for a final treaty.

Middle East
Israeli chief negotiator Oded Eran on Monday echoed comments made by a senior Palestinian official.

"We have three weeks to ready a framework agreement, if we stick to the original plan. If I have to be realistic, it is difficult to reach this date," Mr Oded said.

On Sunday, the speaker of the Palestinian parliament, Ahmed Qorei, said: "The gaps are still wide, and I don't think it's possible to reach an agreement by this date."

The date was set at a summit last year at Sharm al-Sheikh, in Egypt. Under the timetable, Israelis and Palestinians are supposed to reach a final status agreement by 13 September.

Despite the pessimism over the deadline for the framework agreement, Israeli and Palestinian officials were scheduled to meet for talks on Monday.

Deadlocked talks

Palestinian officials had previously resisted Israeli pressure to let the deadline slide. The talks are deadlocked over Israeli withdrawals from occupied territory in the West Bank that have again fallen behind schedule.

EU Commissioner for External Relations, Christopher Patten, meets Yasser Arafat

The Palestinians are waiting for the interim handover of another 6.1% of West Bank land. It is the future of the 60% still occupied by Israel and the sovereignty of Jerusalem which provide the real obstacles in the talks.

Other issues, such as the demarcation of final borders, the fate of Palestinian refugees, water rights and the future of Jewish settlements on occupied land have also seen little progress.

Opportunities for further talks

The Palestinians are pushing for a meeting between Yasser Arafat, the Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Barak and US President, Bill Clinton, at the economic summit in Davos, Switzerland, this weekend.

Another possibility was raised by Hussein Abdel Rahman, the Palestine Liberation Organisation's representative in Washington.

He said the American officials had agreed to move peace talks to the US capital in a bid to accelerate the negotiations.

This proposal has not been confirmed by Washington, and Israel has not said whether it is willing to relocate the talks.

The Palestinians called for a more hands-on US role in peace talks, during a meeting with Bill Clinton last week.

Arafat at the EU

Yasser Arafat was in Brussels on Monday to meet European Union foreign ministers ahead of multi-lateral Middle East peace talks, due to resume in Moscow next month.

Mr Arafat said that "it is imperative to activate European participation" in the Middle East peace process.

Currently the EU's role is primarily that of aid donor to the Palestinians.

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See also:
20 Jan 00 |  Middle East
Clinton: Mid-East compromise inevitable
18 Jan 00 |  Middle East
US struggles to sustain peace process
18 Jan 00 |  Middle East
Barak turns to Palestinians
11 Jan 00 |  Middle East
Israelis protest as talks end
11 Jan 00 |  Middle East
Analysis: The 'roadmap' to peace
16 Jan 00 |  Middle East
Palestinian anger at Israeli delay
05 Jan 00 |  Middle East
Analysis: Land, arms and security

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