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Israeli-Palestinian talks frustrate envoy
Updated: 2005-11-15 09:23

A top Mideast envoy expressed disappointment and frustration Monday at what he described as Israeli and Palestinian foot-dragging in closing a deal on border crossings and other details that would show momentum toward a broader settlement.

Former World Bank President James Wolfensohn said he could give up and go home after months of negotiations if both sides refuse to cooperate.

"If you want to blow each other up, I have a nice house in Wyoming, and in New York and in Australia and I will watch with sadness as you do it," Wolfensohn said at a conference in Jerusalem.

As he spoke, negotiators for both sides met intermittently at the Jerusalem hotel where US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice stayed an extra night in hopes of helping to broker a deal. Rice rearranged her schedule Monday, saying a bargain was "in sight," but hours passed with no word of progress.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said late Monday that the sides are "very close" and that he was hopeful a solution would be reached.

Rice and Wolfensohn met with negotiators early Tuesday to go through a proposed agreement line by line, said an official close to Wolfensohn, speaking on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to talk publicly to reporters.

Israeli-Palestinian talks frustrate envoy
International envoy James Wolfensohn, left, and Palestinian Minister of Civil Affairs Mohammed Dahlan talk to the press after visiting the Karni crossing between the Gaza Strip and Israel Sunday Nov. 13, 2005. [AP]
A deal to free up Palestinian movement while satisfying Israeli concerns about terrorism would be a statement of progress beyond the technical issues at hand.

Rice and Wolfensohn want Israel and the Palestinian leadership to use Israel's unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip last summer as traction for tougher peace negotiations down the road. Cooperation has flagged in recent weeks, and Rice's two days of meetings in Jerusalem and the West Bank were meant to push the two sides to settle some nitty-gritty disputes over Palestinian movement in and out of the territory they now control.

As she has done three other times this year, Rice shuttled between Jerusalem and the Palestinian headquarters in Ramallah with a mix of praise and pressure for both sides. She saw Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon over breakfast, then held a long one-on-one session with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the old offices where Abbas' predecessor, Yasser Arafat, holed up before his death last year.

"We want to work very hard to make certain that the benefits of the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza are fully felt by the Palestinian people," Rice said Monday following a meeting with Abbas.

Although the Bush administration has tried not to put a U.S. stamp on discussions among the Israelis and Palestinians, Rice had wanted to seal a border deal to preserve momentum.

"With enough will and creativity I believe these issues can be resolved," Rice said.

Questions of security and authority at routes in and out of Gaza have clouded optimism after Israel demolished Jewish settlements and pulled troops out of Gaza.

Israel closed Gaza's border with Egypt shortly before the pullout two months ago and has restricted the movement of cargo into Israel, the main market for Palestinian goods.

Israeli-Palestinian talks frustrate envoy
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (L) and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas pose for the media after their joint press conference in the West Bank city of Ramallah, November 14, 2005.[Reuters]
The Palestinians say reopening the crossings is essential to rebuilding Gaza's shattered economy after three decades of Israeli control, especially with the harvest season approaching.

Wolfensohn has brokered months of talks on the issue and had hoped to have a deal in time for Rice's visit.

Wolfensohn represents the United States, Russia, the United Nations and the European Union. The so-called quartet has devised a road map to prod Israel and the Palestinians into a negotiated settlement.

"The truth of the matter is ... I have found it difficult to understand why on six issues in 20 weeks of negotiations it has been impossible to bring about more progress" Wolfensohn said Monday night.

"It seems to me that there needs to be some better means of ... recognizing the solutions which are in both their interests. This is not a game in which one benefits and the other loses."

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