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Experts Ponder Impact of Failed Palestinian Cease-Fire Talks - 2003-12-08

Sunday's failed cease-fire talks among Palestinian factions meeting in Cairo has political analysts and senior government officials in the region pondering what the eventual impact of that failure might be.

Not only did the three and a half days of meetings fail to produce agreement to halt hostilities against Israel, Palestinian sources say no agreements of any kind were reached among the Palestinian factions.

According to the head of the al-Quds Center for Political Studies in Amman, Jordan, Uraib el-Rantawi, that failure could spell bad news for the Palestinian people.

"It is a step back for the Palestinians," said Mr. el-Rantawi. "It is a bad signal, the failure to reach an agreement. It is a very bad signal for the public opinion among the Palestinians themselves. This will give the right-wing government in Israel an excuse not to go ahead with the peace process, [not] to comply with the road map agenda. And I think this will bring pressure on the Palestinian authority to take care about those factions and to go ahead with its agenda to secure the situation in Palestine."

The meeting of the Palestinian factions was hosted by the Egyptian government.

The spokesman for the 22-member Arab League in Cairo, Hossam Zaki, said Palestinians will never be able to agree to halt hostilities, unless Israel provides assurances it is willing to do the same.

"We have to bear in mind that this is not a dialogue in a vacuum," explained Mr. Zaki. "This is a dialogue that has to be taken in the context of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, which means that there's another side to the equation. And the equation is not only Palestinian, it is Palestinian-Israeli. And as long as Israel is not committed to anything, there is no real hope that the Palestinian factions can reach a sustainable kind of deal on the freeze of their activities."

While Israeli officials have insisted only an end to all Palestinian hostilities could pave the way for a mutual cease-fire agreement, they have also said they are willing to scale back military operations in the territories, as long as the relative quiet of recent weeks continues.

The spokesman for the Arab League said that, while the Palestinian factions failed to reach any agreements, he says the fact they were willing to gather for such a high level meeting should be seen as a desire among Palestinians to achieve peace.

Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia had hoped the factions would agree to halt attacks against Israel, so he could take such an agreement to the bargaining table with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

Officials for both prime ministers have been meeting in an effort to arrange a summit between the two men.