Isabel Kershner
The New York Times
April 18, 2008 - 6:17pm

The Palestinian Authority’s foreign minister on Thursday offered an unusually bleak assessment of the negotiations with Israel and said President Mahmoud Abbas would seek more active American intervention when he meets with President Bush in Washington this month.

Riad Malki, the foreign minister and minister of information in the West Bank-based government, told the Foreign Press Association here that the talks on the core issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict had so far yielded “no results.”

The Israelis and the Palestinians agreed to the talks at the American-sponsored peace conference at Annapolis, Md., last November. The stated goal was to reach an accord by the end of 2008 based on Mr. Bush’s vision of two states living side by side.

“Yes, they are talking,” Mr. Malki said. “All the issues are on the table. But we did not conclude any issue. How long will it take? Nobody knows.”

Both sides have maintained a strict silence on the content of the talks, mostly making vague comments that they have been serious. Israeli officials suggest that the sides are making progress, but Mr. Malki, a political independent, presented a more dismal view.

If the number of meetings between Mr. Abbas and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Israel, or between the negotiation team leaders, were any indicator of progress, “we should be encouraged,” he said. “But unfortunately these are not indicators.”

The negotiating teams are led by Israel’s foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, and a former Palestinian prime minister and peace talks veteran, Ahmed Qurei.

Arye Mekel, a spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry, rejected Mr. Malki’s assessment, saying that only a “small circle of people” had full information about the content of the talks. “Discussions are continuing; we are making progress,” he said.

But Mr. Malki said Israel’s settlement building and its refusal to introduce real changes in conditions in the West Bank showed that Israel’s attitude had “regressed considerably.”

Israel says it is building only in existing settlements, in areas that it intends to keep under any future deal, and cites security concerns as an impediment to sweeping changes on the ground.

At Annapolis, it was agreed that the United States would monitor both sides’ performance in fulfilling obligations under the 2003 peace plan known as the road map. Mr. Malki said the Palestinians might ask the Americans for “third-party monitoring” of the negotiations as well.

Mr. Abbas, currently in Moscow, told university students there on Thursday that the negotiations “are not advancing at the required pace or yielding the progress necessary for us to reach the agreed objectives by the agreed dates.”

He is asking Russia to hold a conference in June to advance the peace efforts. The Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Thursday that a date for such a meeting could be set “very soon.”

But Mr. Olmert recently told reporters in Jerusalem that “this habit” of going from one international convention to another “is not something that I am particularly in favor of.”

In Cairo on Thursday, former President Jimmy Carter met with Hamas leaders from Gaza and spoke at the American University, Reuters reported. He criticized Israel’s action, after Hamas took over Gaza by force last June, to allow only basic supplies to be moved into the territory.

Mr. Carter said Palestinians in Gaza were being “starved to death,” receiving fewer calories a day than people in the poorest parts of Africa. “It’s an atrocity what is being perpetrated as punishment on the people in Gaza,” he said.

Hamas officials praised Mr. Carter for meeting with them. “This meeting is a message to those who don’t recognize Hamas’s legitimacy as a movement,” the former Palestinian foreign minister, Mahmoud al-Zahar, was quoted as saying on the Hamas Web site.

The United States, Israel and the European Union consider Hamas a terrorist organization.

Israeli-Palestinian tensions continued to be high on Thursday, a day after confrontations and Israeli strikes in Gaza left 18 Palestinians, including several children, and 3 Israeli soldiers dead.

Israeli forces killed two Palestinians during an early morning raid in Qabatiya, in the northern West Bank. Palestinian officials said one was a militant from Islamic Jihad and the other was a 16-year-old. The Israeli military identified them as Bilal Zaalah, leader of the Islamic Jihad in Qabatiya, and his deputy, and said they had been armed.

In Gaza, Hamas issued a statement calling on its fighters to attack Israel “in every place and with all means available.” In the early afternoon, one Palestinian militant was killed by Israeli fire near the Kerem Shalom border crossing, where essential food and medical supplies are moved into Gaza. The army closed the crossing as a result.

Later in the day, Palestinian snipers fired at the Nahal Oz fuel depot on Israel’s border with Gaza, causing that to close down as well, the Israeli military said.

Also on Thursday, thousands attended the funeral in Gaza of a Reuters cameraman, Fadel Shana, 23, who was killed by an Israeli tank shell while filming the hostilities on Wednesday. A medical examination showed that Mr. Shana was killed by metal darts from an exploding shell, Reuters reported.

Mr. Shana was killed while standing by his jeep, which was clearly marked with press signs, Reuters said. The army has expressed regret over his death.


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