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Palestinian-Israeli Negotiations on Self-Rule Reach Impasse

By Barton Gellman
The Washington Post

Negotiations on Palestinian self-rule broke up in discord Thursday, reinforcing an impression of cheerless stalemate that has grown increasingly pronounced in recent weeks.

Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat managed thin smiles as they shook hands to start their meeting at the Erez crossing point between Israel and the autonomous Gaza Strip. But they abandoned their practice of holding a joint news conference afterward. A grim-faced Arafat passed head down and speechless through a knot of reporters to his car.

"What do I have to say to them?" he was overheard muttering to an aide. Later, after a meeting with a European delegation led by French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe, he was asked whether a scheduled meeting next week might break the impasse. "I am a pragmatic person," he replied. "I am not dreaming."

Israel is demanding, without much hope, that Arafat take strong new steps to quash his radical opposition, which has mounted lethal attacks against Israelis. Palestinians are looking for an end to the closure of Israel's borders with the Gaza Strip and Jericho, which is depriving tens of thousands of Arab workers of their livelihood, and to progress on long-promised Israeli initiatives to allow Palestinian elections in the occupied territories and to pull back Israeli troops from Arab towns and villages there.

Israel holds most of the cards in the talks, which boil down to the question of how much land and self-governing power it will transfer to Palestinians in the occupied territories. But neither side has shown itself willing to deliver the barest demands of the other. Because Arafat has been unable or unwilling to provide Israelis with the one thing they say they really want - security from armed attack - Rabin feels he lacks political room to make further concessions.

"I think there is a crisis, a real crisis," said Yasser Abed Rabbo, information minister in Arafat's limited self-rule authority. "There are two tendencies, and two approaches."