Mideast envoys raise issues, but not face to face Peace talks stuck in procedural morass

WASHINGTON — WASHINGTON -- Israelis and Palestinians spoke passionately here yesterday about things that really count -- about people under curfew, about violence, about justice between the two peoples.

But it was a dialogue only with reporters.


Their official representatives, here for the Mideast peace talks, continued a three-day debate over whether to meet in two rooms or one.

The negotiating teams all agreed to stay in Washington next week in an effort to make some progress. Yesterday Israeli, Jordanian and Palestinian officials said they were near agreement on procedures to begin discussing issues, but they failed last night to resolve the matter. They said they would try again Monday.


Those representatives have remained in the hallways of the State Department, discussing the procedures for their negotiations. Other Israeli and Syrian negotiators have met since Tuesday, but there was "again no progress today," said the chief Syrian negotiator, Muwaffak Allaf.

In yet another room, Israeli and Lebanese officials continued quiet work but reported no immediate results.

The formal negotiations on the central Palestinian issue were stuck on posturing, but the raw emotions of the conflict in the Middle East boiled up yesterday in news conferences held by each side.

Hanan Ashrawi, the chief Palestinian spokeswoman, emerged for scheduled meeting with reporters just after talking by telephone to other Palestinians in the occupied territories. Normally cool and unflappable, Mrs. Ashrawi spoke haltingly about the strict curfew Israeli authorities have imposed on her hometown of Ramallah.

"It's very difficult to carry out any type of negotiations or political discussions when your children are being prevented from going to school, when they cannot even step outside their house for some fresh air and sunshine, when soldiers are carrying out house-to-house searches and arresting people, and when settlers still are on the rampage," she said.

"I tried to talk to my daughter . . .I'll tell you that conditions are deplorable," she said. One hour later in a different hotel, the chief Israeli spokesman said the curfew was imposed in reaction to attacks on Jewish settlers.

"We cannot accept the notion that Arabs can kill Jews . . . and Israel is to sit there waiting for the next blow," said Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's deputy foreign minister. "We are doing what we are legally entitled to do under international law, under the law of military governments and under common sense.

"We're trying to restore law and order here," he said.


Events in the occupied territories increased the strain of the procedural wrangling in Washington. In the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan, an Arab community next to the walled Old City, 14 Jewish families backed by police yesterday moved into homes from which Arabs had been evicted.

Mrs. Ashrawi complained that families with children had been left in the cold rain and that Israeli settlers had rampaged through Ramallah and other Arab areas under curfew.

"Pay some attention to our human condition," she pleaded. "We are a people, and when you shoot us, we die, and when you turn us out in the rain, we get cold and we get sick," she said.

Mr. Netanyahu replied that the Silwan dispute was being heard by Israeli courts, which he called "a judicial system that is widely respected around the world, is impartial, and it addresses Arab claims."

He defended the continuing Israeli settlements in the occupied territories seized during the 1967 war.

"I think the idea that Arabs can go on building and expanding their settlement on this land, land from which they attacked us in 1967, where Israel is not allowed to do anything there, is both unfair and . . . unwise," he said.


Israeli negotiators had planned to leave yesterday, Mr. Netanyahu said, but agreed to stay "till the middle of next week."

Negotiations with the Palestinians deadlocked over disagreement over whether Israelis would meet with Palestinian negotiators separately from the Jordanian team, or meet with them as a unified delegation as they had in the opening round of peace talks in Madrid, Spain, in October.

Israeli and Syrian negotiators apparently have not budged in their disagreement over the Golan Heights, seized by Israel from Syria in 1967. Only Israeli negotiations with Lebanon over how to stop sporadic battles along the border seemed to be making progress, Mr. Netanyahu said.