Good afternoon. I apologize in advance if my opening statements are a bit longer than usual. It’s simply that I’m trying to cover three or four different sets of negotiations in one opening statement.

Let me start by saying that, as you all know, negotiations will recess for next week. Some of our Arab counterparts informed us that they wished to adjourn negotiations on the Moslem holiday marking the birth of the Prophet which falls on Thursday, the 10th of September. Bearing in mind that in addition, next Monday is Labor Day, we were left with only two days to negotiate next week next Tuesday and Wednesday.

For this reason, it was mutually agreed that we would recess talks for next week, and resume them on Monday, the 14th. In order to make up for the lost two days Tuesday and Wednesday the entire round, by mutual agreement, will be extended until September 24th.

As a result, after tomorrow’s talks, the Israeli delegations will fly back home to Jerusalem for a week of briefings and consultations with our government. We will return in time to continue negotiations on the 14th.

When in Israel, we will be working on all aspects of the negotiations, report of course to our government, and receive further guidance and instructions. In this respect, the recess not only does not detract from the negotiations, but actually enhances them.

If the Palestinians or the Jordanians would like to continue working with us during the recess in working groups or committees or sub-committees, we will make the necessary arrangements and leave as many people in Washington as needed or even fly in more experts in the various fields, if necessary. We are willing to do that next week as well.

Speaking of committees, we have been urging our partners to move the negotiations into specific working groups or sub-committees in order to try and grapple with the issues raised especially by the interim self-government arrangements. We suggested establishing committees on each of the spheres foreseen in the self-government period, and on additional issues such as a working group on water, for example. We have also offered to set up a working group on human rights in order to seriously address the issue, and to serve as a substitute for unproductive rhetorical exchanges we have witnessed up until now.

It is really of no importance to us who will get the credit for first coming up with the proposal to form committees. What IS important, is that these proposals will serve to promote the main purpose of the negotiations. And I’m glad to say that today, in our negotiations with the Palestinians, we agreed, in principle, on the need to work in such committees.

These are complicated negotiations, and many aspects must be discussed in working groups in order to work out that interim self-government. The idea of committees should not be treated like a fruit cocktail, in which one side is only interested in picking out the cherries, while leaving all the rest. That is to say that if we are to establish committees on human rights, for example, and legal matters which are important issues, but they are not really the core of the negotiations we should also set up groups to work on the core issues, such as the concept of self-government, the issue of powers and responsibilities, the proposed elections, general economic cooperation, and so on and so on.

The meeting today with our Palestinian friends lasted for more than three hours.

As you recall, yesterday they presented us with two documents dealing with the agenda on the one hand and a proposed framework agreement. We received the documents, shared with them our initial comments with them, and stated that we would examine and consider both papers.

We do welcome the exchange of agendas and the common effort to reach agreement on this aspect of the negotiations. There are still wide gaps, to be sure. But it seems that at least on this, the general direction is productive.

In our session today with the Palestinians, we responded by presenting a counter-document, a proposed common agenda about all of this, that includes:

1) A proposed definition of the goal of the negotiations basically the Madrid Formula with an interim agreement first and then negotiations over the final status of the territories.

2) An outline of the concept of interim self-government arrangements, with items such as the jurisdiction, the structure, the powers and responsibilities, coordination, cooperation things like that.

3) A description of the modalities for establishing this interim self-government, including, for example, the question of elections and the question of access to public records, and things of the sort.

4) Components of peaceful co-existence, with items such as mechanisms for dispute resolution, mechanisms for liaison.

5) Preparatory measures and confidence-building, parallel to the negotiations.

6) Going back to the issue of the working groups, a detailed proposal concerning the formation of working groups to deal with the issues such as:

a) The concept of the interim arrangements;

b) Legal matters, including a review of the legal system in the territories;

c) Powers and responsibilities;

d) Economic issues;

e) Election modalities, and so on and so forth.

Now, going through this list, you will certainly realize that we have tried to take their sensitivities into consideration while formulating our paper. We will await their response tomorrow to this agenda of ours.

Unfortunately, in that set of negotiations, a major part of the day was consumed by an unnecessary discussion over an attempt by the Palestinians to change the rules of engagement under which we all work, by an attempt to bring in an expert that does not comply with those rules of engagement.

The formula for the composition of the Palestinian delegation, as you all know, was determined after months and months of difficult negotiations and shuttle diplomacy, which succeeded in bypassing the complicated issues. This issue was mutually decided through compromise and concession on the part of all sides. Today, we do have an agreed Palestinian representation exists, and it is the delegation with whom we are sitting.

While we, of course, welcome the idea of bringing in experts to deal with the complexities of the situation, there can be no unilateral attempt to change in the rules, and the issue is still on the table. We will continue our dealings with this tomorrow.

Negotiations with the Palestinians will resume tomorrow at 9:30 in the morning.

A few words about our negotiations with the Jordanians. They will resume in 45 minutes.

I would really like to confine myself to just one statement. Within the last two days, we have witnessed intensified negative Jordanian statements regarding these set of negotiations. I would like to put it in a proper perspective, and remind everybody that negotiation is a process of give and take, that negotiations have their ups and downs. Last week we were publicly told to expect agreement on the agenda by the weekend, and yesterday, with not much happening in between, we heard how the distance between us is widening.

Perhaps it would be more constructive for all of us to temper our statements and to avoid the use of superlatives, both negative and positive, in describing the status of negotiations. This added element of instability has a negative influence on the negotiations, and nobody is interested in that.

Talks with the Jordanian will resume later today.

I have a very short statement on Syria. I apologize for not having Lebanon today. I haven’t had much time to be briefed on that. But on Syria:

In the discussions today with Syria, the Israeli negotiators presented our reaction to a number of points which appeared in the Syrian paper that was presented at the beginning of this week. The Israeli comments focused on the general principles of the paper.

There are additional, specific elements in the Syrian paper which will be addressed later, which we are still studying. We hope to present our comments on that in the very near future.

Today’s session, as far at atmosphere goes, with the Syrians was consistent with our other sessions during this round, and can be characterized as an improved atmosphere and tone, while in terms of content, substantial differences still remain.

What is some advice on this set of negotiations? I would at this stage steer you all away from all of the speculations I’ve seen in the last 24 hours about major dramatic developments such as interim arrangements, timetables, discussions of boundaries, and all this and all that. We’re not there yet. The discussion with the Syrians is still over principles.

Talks with the Syrians will resume tomorrow at 10:00 A.M. So will the talks with the Lebanese. We don’t have an exact time for the talks tomorrow, but we will hold all of our sessions with the Jordanians, Palestinians, Lebanese and Syrians, and then tomorrow night we’ll head back home.