The talks got off to a brisk start Monday, but ended just as briskly with an adjournment after two hours. Both sides emphasized that they hadn't broken down, and that the session had been a positive one aimed primarily at establishing the agenda for negotiating in-principle agreements by mid-February to the complex "final status" issues between Israel and the Palestinians. The two sides remain sharply divided over the boundaries of a future Palestinian state, the status of Jerusalem, and the fate of Israeli settlers inside Palestinian territory and of Palestinian refugees abroad. The February deadline may look a tad unrealistic, but if they're undeterred by terrorist naysayers, they may just arrive at a deal even if they get there late.
Last week they lionized Yitzhak Rabin in words; this week Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat memorialized the slain Israeli prime minister in deeds by remaining at the negotiating table despite terrorist bombings. So-called "final status" negotiations between Israeli diplomat Oded Eran and Palestinian representative Yasser Abed Rabbo went ahead Monday, despite a pipe-bomb attack in Netanya Sunday that injured 33 Israelis. Although both Benjamin Netanyahu and Shimon Peres had previously halted peace talks in response to bomb attacks, it had long been Rabin's conviction that in the long run this would simply hand the terrorists their desired result. More pertinent for Barak, perhaps, was the fact that Israeli police believe the bombing was the work of Israeli-Arab villagers rather than the more breakaway Hamas movement based in territories controlled by Arafat in other words, the Palestinian Authority couldn't plausibly be held responsible for failing to stop it.