CAIRO: The US-sponsored Middle East peace conference has been postponed until January, a US State Department official told the Universal Press Agency on condition of anonymity.
Originally scheduled for the fall, negotiations seem to have hit a snag over differing Palestinian and Israeli intentions for the specificity of the document to be released at the conference.
Officially, no date had been set for the conference but US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had stated that it was scheduled for the fall “so we still have November and December at a Cairo press conference last Tuesday.
Now it appears that it will be pushed back to January, according to a report by the Universal Press Agency. The reason given is that the Palestinians want the conference document to be specific about the terms of final status talks, or core issues.
Israel, on the other hand, wants the document to be more ambiguous, with no mention of any binding agreements for the core issues.
Arab neighbors had been critical of the conference for the vagueness of its agenda but seemed more encouraged after meetings with Rice last week.
The reason for the Arab turnaround concerning the US-sponsored peace conference was the promise of mentioning the core issues in the conference declaration, Walid Kazziha, professor of political science at the American University in Cairo, told Daily News Egypt.
Arabs displayed a turnaround in their view of the conference after meetings with Rice in Cairo Tuesday by stating that they were “encouraged by the serious intent of Rice and the American administration in pursuing the creation of a Palestinian state.
“They will mention the core issues and this is what has encouraged the Arabs. Kazziha said, “There was no change that happened except for saying we are encouraged and the [Arab] mood changed. She (Rice) must have confirmed to them that the operation is serious and is a first step towards more serious steps.
This was achieved by confirming that “the final status issues will be mentioned in the declaration document, which isn’t what the Israelis wanted. They didn’t want to touch on the core issues. She probably told them we will specify the core issues in the document and they will be discussed in later meetings, he added.
However, it appears that it is for this very reason that the conference has been postponed, as American diplomats continue their efforts to reach a compromise solution between both sides.
National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley is to visit the Middle East this week with Rice due to follow him the week after, two weeks after her last visit to the region.
The final status talks, or core issues, are the future of Palestinian refugees exiled since 1948, the final status of Jerusalem and the eventual demarcation of the borders. Israel prefers the conference document to carry a more vague declaration concerning the core issues.
“We talked about the conference and its seriousness and we discussed the core issues of the settlement, Secretary-General of the Arab League Amr Moussa told reporters after meeting Rice on her visit last week.
Having previously criticized the ambiguity of the conference’s agenda, the Arabs changed tack after being given assurances of the seriousness of the conference by Rice despite the fact that the nature of these assurances was not made public.
“We feel encouraged regarding what we heard from Secretary Rice and promised her that we would help and we would help the parties as well in order to achieve the objective, which is launching the permanent status negotiations that would lead to the establishment of a Palestinian state on both the Palestinian territories, Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said in a joint press conference with the Secretary of State.
However, Kazziha believed that the conference being held under the current circumstances was not in the best interest of the Arabs, despite the positive mood shift.
“Whatever she has said to them, my feeling is that the conference is being held under such circumstances, which are most unattractive from an Arab point of view. Firstly, because the Arab front is not united and Syria definitely seems to not be included (in the conference), because they will only attend if the issue of the Golan Heights is on the agenda, he said, “Secondly, the Palestinian ranks are divided and the Arabs are in their weakest position.
“This is what is encouraging the Americans and Israelis in attending the conference, Kazziha added, “get [the Arabs] to sign a declaration and the process of building the wall and confiscating land is going on. Nobody is going to stop them. The Arabs say they have conditions but they are not setting the pace, they cannot set the pace.
“This meeting is to the advantage of the Israelis and Americans but not the Arabs at this point. If the Arabs closed their ranks and the Palestinians unified then it would be, but until we organize ourselves, it is like going to war without your arms, he said.