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Palestinian Official Urges Israel to Resume Negotiations - 2002-01-25

A senior Palestinian negotiator Thursday called on Israel to return to the negotiating table to end months of violence between Israelis and Palestinians. Saeb Erekat made the appeal during a speech to the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, France.

Addressing the assembly of the Council of Europe, Saeb Erekat repeatedly called on Israel to return to peace negotiations. He said he was speaking on behalf of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in a call to Israel to come back to the negotiating table, without any conditions. The Palestinian official cited a remark by Israel's foreign minister to underscore the need for diplomacy.

"Shimon Peres was right when he told me that negotiating in pain and frustration for five years is really much cheaper than exchanging bullets for five minutes," he said.

Mr. Erekat also warned that if Mr. Arafat and the Palestinian authority are removed from power, the peace process would be set back for five decades. It would take that long, he said, for another Palestinian to come along who would be willing to negotiate with Israel.

Israel has been hit by a wave of bombings and shootings in recent months and Israeli leaders have repeatedly called on Mr. Arafat to stop them, saying they will not negotiate with him until the violence is halted completely for seven days.

This week a Palestinian gunman went on a shooting rampage in Jerusalem's main shopping street, killing at least two people and wounding many others before being shot by police. On the same day an Israeli raid killed several Palestinian militants.

Mr. Erekat's appearance before the Council of Europe follows an address to the same body by Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres on Wednesday. The council is considered to be Europe's leading human rights organization.