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Middle East Thursday, 15 July, 1999, 16:14 GMT 17:14 UK
Oslo in the doldrums
Arafat
There was mutual mistrust between Yasser Arafat and Binyamin Netanyahu
The Middle East peace process - if not dead - has been effectively moribund for over a year, with both Israel and the Palestinians locked into mutual recrimination over who is to blame for the stalemate. Repeated attempts to breathe new life into the process have so far come to nothing, with each fresh diplomatic initiative running into the sand.

The main sticking points

The crisis in relations between the two sides revolves around two key issues: territory and security.

  • The Oslo process which began in 1993 is based on a "negotiated transfer" of land during an interim period of five years designed to build confidence between both sides and draw them together towards a compromise solution. The most difficult issues were deliberately put on one side to be negotiated as part of final status talks.

  • Under the Oslo agreements, Israel was meant to carry out a series of withdrawals from the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. These have been delayed because of arguments over the extent of territory to be handed over, and the original timetable is now hopelessly behind schedule.

  • Israel is concerned that the Palestinian Authority is doing too little on the security front. The Israeli government wants Yasser Arafat to curb the activities of Hamas - the Islamic Resistance Movement - which is opposed to the peace process. It has made clear that unless there is progress there, there can be little hope of any further withdrawals from the West Bank.

  • Mr Netanyahu has suggested that the two sides move straight on to final status talks, effectively bypassing the rest of the interim period as laid out at Oslo. The Palestinians believe Israel is trying to evade its commitments to carry out further withdrawals, effectively depriving them of land which would comprise a future Palestinian state.

  • Relations have been further strained by sharp differences over two key issues to be negotiated as part of a permanent settlement: the future of Jerusalem, and the expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

  • The other main issues to be decided in the final status talks: the fate of Palestinian refugees and the final borders of the Israel and the Palestinian-controlled areas of the West Bank and Gaza. These are likely to prove as hard to solve as anything else.
Links to more Middle East stories are at the foot of the page.


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