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Peres:  Revival of Mideast Peace Talks Complicated by 'Climate of Mistrust' - 2002-06-14

Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres says he recently renewed contacts with senior Palestinian officials in a bid to revive stalled peace negotiations. Mr. Peres says he has held "preliminary contacts" with Palestinian negotiators "to sound out the possibilities of moving forward" with peace talks.

The Israeli foreign minister says the effort is complicated by "the climate of mistrust" following more than 20 months of bitter bloodshed. Mr. Peres says "what is missing at this point is reciprocal good will."

The foreign minister stressed he has "no intention" of speaking with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, who has been ruled out as a negotiating partner by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

Mr. Peres did not name the Palestinian officials he has recently talked with.

Last February, the foreign minister revealed he had been meeting with Palestinian negotiator Ahmed Qureia, his last known contact with Palestinian officials.

The two men have drafted a plan that calls for recognition of a Palestinian state shortly after the signing of a peace accord. The proposal calls for the withdrawal of Israeli troops from land occupied since the outbreak of the Palestinian uprising in September 2000.

Under the plan, a Palestinian state would initially cover just over 40 percent of the West Bank and most of the Gaza Strip, land that had been transferred to the Palestinians during interim agreements.

Mr. Peres says this idea is similar to the concept of a provisional state for the Palestinians, an issue raised this week as a possibility by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat says he is hoping for a clarification of U.S. policy from the American government.

"What is the U.S. policy? I don't know. We heard from the Americans that they want to move towards ending the Israeli occupation, towards establishing a Palestinian state in accordance with the agreed upon terms of reference," he said. "Today, we heard a new concept in international relations called temporary state. I don't know if such a phrase exists in international politics, in the legal sense. Do you mean the temporary boundaries, temporary government, temporary people?"

Palestinians want all of the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem for their future state, lands captured by Israel during the 1967 Middle East War.

In the latest example of the continuing violence, Israeli security officials shot and killed a Palestinian man who stabbed and slightly wounded a Jewish settler near the West Bank city of Nablus.

Israeli soldiers also entered a Palestinian-ruled area of Hebron, blowing up what the army says was an explosives factory and detaining several Palestinians for questioning.

Israeli forces are carrying out almost daily raids in the West Bank, saying the incursions are needed to prevent Palestinian militants from launching attacks.