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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Israel, PLO Begin Final Peace Talks

TABA, Egypt -- Israel and the PLO started Sunday the last chapter of negotiations toward a permanent peace settlement to decide the future of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and Jerusalem, witnesses said.


But the inaugural "final-status" talks at Egypt's Red Sea resort of Taba, begun after a delay of more than two hours, were overshadowed by Israel's failure to withdraw as scheduled from parts of the West Bank town of Hebron and by Israel's May 29 general elections.


The opening session began with a handshake between Palestinian chief negotiator Mahmoud Abbas, known as Abu Mazen, and his Israeli counterpart, Foreign Ministry Director General Uri Savir.


Savir told reporters prior to the talks that the negotiations "really prove to both peoples that we are determined to go ahead until we come to [the] final status and full reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians."


On the agenda are, among other things, the nature of a Palestinian entity and its borders.


The talks will also cover the highly-charged questions of control over Jerusalem, the fate of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees and the future of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.


The Taba talks are expected to adjourn either late Sunday or early Monday and the next session is not due to be held until after Israeli election day.


Israeli Health Minister Ephraim Sneh said apart from Hebron, Israel had kept all its commitments in its interim agreements with the Palestine Liberation Organization, or PLO.


"All the conditions of the interim agreements have been met," Sneh told Israel Television. "Only this matter of Hebron remains. You cannot say this government does not carry out agreements or keep promises."


In a confidence-building move Palestinian President Yasser Arafat sent Prime Minister Shimon Peres a letter confirming last month's decision by the Palestinian National Council to amend its national charter, which had called for Israel's destruction.


In the letter, which Peres presented to the cabinet Sunday and released to the media, Arafat stated the charter had been amended to conform with Palestinian commitments to Israel.


Israeli right-wing politicians had expressed doubts the decision actually met Israel's demand to cancel portions of the charter calling for an end to the Jewish state.