Monday, 29 January 2001

Israel calls off talks until after election

Monday, January 29, 2001

By Matthew Kalman

JERUSALEM -- Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak suspended all diplomatic contacts with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat last night and cancelled a summit meeting planned for tomorrow in Stockholm.
The terse announcement was made shortly after a panel discussion at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland turned into a public embarrassment for Israeli cabinet minister Shimon Peres, as Mr. Arafat launched a scathing attack on Israeli policy.
The suspension of contacts until after Israel's election on Feb. 6 does not include links aimed at combatting violence and terrorism.
Mr. Barak stressed that his government "continues to adhere to the peace process on the basis of upholding Israel's vital interests." But his statement represented a dramatic contrast to the optimism expressed on Saturday at the end of a week of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations at an Egyptian resort.
Yesterday's discussion in Davos began politely enough, with Mr. Arafat gently insisting that Mr. Peres deliver his speech first. The Israeli Nobel laureate, who is closely associated with continued efforts to reach a deal with the Palestinians, said Israel remained committed to peace. "We never initiated any pressure upon the Palestinians. Nor did we aim our guns just out of bad will, only when it was needed to defend our lives."
But his Nobel peace partner shot back with a withering dissection of Israeli attacks against Palestinians.
"I wouldn't wish an Israeli child to have to live a single hour of the lives that Palestinian children are now having to live suffering under repression and under bombardment," he said.
"The current government of Israel is waging and has waged for the past four months a savage and barbaric war as well as a blatant and fascist military aggression."
Mr. Peres, his hands clasped tight together in a double fist, was clearly taken aback. Only a day earlier, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators said the sides had never been so close to a peace treaty.

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