JERUSALEM (AP) – A U.S. envoy’s first round of talks on a new Middle East peace plan produced a host of complaints yesterday, with Palestinians balking at the idea of skipping presidential elections – a means of sidelining Yasser Arafat – and Israel saying its security concerns were not being addressed.
The envoy, Assistant Secretary of State William Burns, met separately with officials from both sides, but not with Arafat. The Bush administration is boycotting the Palestinian leader, following Israel’s lead in blaming him for continuing violence and deepening Palestinian suspicions of a U.S. bias.
Later, Israeli and Palestinians had a high-level meeting of their own, both sides said. Teams headed by Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Palestinian Cabinet Minister Saeb Erekat discussed security and other issues, according to a statement from Peres’ office.
The peace proposal, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press, calls for creation of a Palestinian state with temporary borders next year.
The Burns mission is the most ambitious diplomatic push in the region in months, and its lukewarm reception underscores the minimal expectations on both sides at a time when two years of fighting appear to have ground to an unhappy stalemate.
Israeli troops have taken over key areas of the West Bank and have relentlessly struck at Palestinian militant groups – killing dozens of accused terrorists and arresting thousands – yet suicide bombings persist, and Israel’s military strikes have taken an increasing toll in civilian lives.
In the latest violence, Israeli soldiers killed a 15-year-old Palestinian in the West Bank town of Jenin yesterday. Witnesses and the military said soldiers opened fire after the youth climbed onto a tank. The military said he was shot because soldiers thought he might be carrying a firebomb, but he was not.
In Gaza, the Israeli military said soldiers shot and killed a Palestinian who was throwing grenades at them. The exchange took place near Rafah on the Egyptian border, scene of almost daily clashes. Palestinians said he was apparently infiltrating from Egypt.
Burns is carrying a so-called U.S. “road map” for settling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in three phases.
Palestinian officials who met with Burns in the desert oasis of Jericho, far from Arafat’s headquarters in Ramallah, complained the proposal called for parliamentary but not presidential elections. It calls for a prime minister to take over some of Arafat’s duties.