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Israel, US Committed to Road Map, Despite New Initiative

  • Julie Stahl Jerusalem Bureau Chief
  • 2003 20 Oct
Israel, US Committed to Road Map, Despite New Initiative
Jerusalem ( - Three leaders of Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat's Fatah faction have just ended a visit to Washington, where they reportedly discussed a new under-the-table peace initiative, which came to light last week. Israel is downplaying the significance of the trip.

According to reports about the yet-to-be-published "Geneva Initiative," Jerusalem would be divided and the Temple Mount would be turned over to Palestinian control, while the Palestinians reportedly would give up their demand for millions of Palestinians refugees and their descendants to settle in Israel - the so-called "right of return."

Ahmed Ghanaim, Kadoura Fares and Hatem Abdel Kader reportedly were invited to Washington for a visit that ended on Sunday. Fares was a main player in the Geneva Initiative, which was drafted last week in Amman, Jordan, with the support of Switzerland.

One U.S. official said that the group had been invited by the Washington Institute of Near East Policy, so therefore it was considered a private, not official, visit.

The Institute is headed by Dennis Ross, who was Washington's special envoy to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process for years.

Israeli right-wing politicians initially blasted the understanding between Israeli left-wingers and Palestinian activists when news of the agreement was first publicized.

But an Israeli official said there was "no concern" that the deal would somehow eclipse current U.S-sponsored Israeli-Palestinian plan, known as the "road map."

"We are committed to the road map and that's basically what counts," said the Israeli official. "Any kind of initiative is preliminary and unrealistic to say the least."

Israel expressed its disappointment that the Swiss government had not informed the Israeli government that it was involved in such behind-the-scenes talks, but it took the issue no further.

The Israeli official said that the Swiss government had assured Israel that it was "by no means trying to undermine Israeli government or undermine the road map."

Israel is still waiting to see if there will be someone to talk with after Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia's emergency cabinet expires, the official said.

Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz told Israeli ministers on Sunday that the Palestinian political situation was one of crisis, in which Qureia's government is "hanging by a thread due to the obstacles [PA Chairman Yasser] Arafat has put in its way," a cabinet statement said.

Arafat continues to impede the development of a regime that could talk with Israel, Mofaz said.

A U.S. Embassy spokesman in Tel Aviv said on Monday that the U.S. remained committed to the "road map."

Although it is not the only problem, the "primary problem" at this point is the lack of the Palestinian fight against terrorism, the official said. "For the road map to succeed the Palestinians have to do more to fight terror," the spokesman said.