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Publisher\Editor Don Canaan

                      Nov. 1, 1995, V3, #198
All the News the Big Guys Missed

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Israel will Receive Gas from Qatar

By Laurie Kassman (VOA-Amman)

Israel and Qatar Enron Gas Company have signed a memo of intent to provide natural gas to Israel. The sales deal still needs to be finalized, but the deal marks the first contract between a Gulf state and Israel, two countries not officially at peace.

The Ministers of Energy from Qatar and Israel signed a memo of understanding on the margins of the Economic Conference here in Amman. Once a deal is finalized the Qatari gas company will supply about $5.5 billion worth of natural gas to Israel.

The operation would not start before the year 2001. The final contract would await a comprehensive Middle East peace agreement.

Qatar's delegation has been one of the more active participants here at the economic conference. Qatar seems more interested in pursuing the economic benefits of the Middle East peace process than getting mired in some of the political sparing about past hostilities.

This marks the first direct deal between Israel and an Arab Gulf state not officially at peace with it. Qatar and neighboring Oman have both spearheaded efforts to explore trade opportunities with the Jewish state in preparation for normalized relations in a peacetime Middle East.

Does Syria Really Want a Peace Treaty?

By Al Pessin (VOA-Jerusalem)

When the Israel-Jordan peace treaty was signed a year ago, there was much talk of holding a similar ceremony for an Israel-Syria treaty. And in fact, the Israel-Syria talks intensified for a while and seemed to make some progress -- Israeli leaders strongly hinted they would give up all of the Golan Heights and Syria's foreign minister made conciliatory statements in an appearance on Israeli television.

But as the year went on, it became clear that neither side was satisfied with what the other was willing to say. Syria wanted withdrawal to a line Israel would not accept. And Israel wanted Syria to stop supporting militant Palestinian groups, which it apparently was not willing to do. Then, Israel accused Syria of reneging on a promise to upgrade the talks to the level of military chiefs of staff. Since then, repeated US efforts to get the talks going again have failed.

Of course, each side blames the other. Syria says Israel is refusing to budge on several key issues, such as the form of monitoring and early-warning systems on a new border, but Israel says those issues should be negotiated, and in high-level talks.

Yigal Palmor is a spokesman for Israel's Foreign Ministry. "They are saying that before Israeli and Syrian representatives meet, Israel must give up certain issues which were supposed to be raised and debated. So, it means they are not even willing to debate, let alone to accept, some things which to us seem vital."

Palmor says "everything is paralyzed" in the Israel-Syria talks, partly because Syria refuses to raise the level of the negotiators.

But there are also indications of a possible slowdown on the Israeli side. There have been news reports that Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin wants to keep the Syria talks on hold for a few months so as not to anger any members of his fragile coalition, with a key vote coming up in the Israeli parliament.

In addition, many Israeli leaders believe they will not be able to make the difficult concessions necessary for peace if the negotiations drag on into Israel's election campaign, which begins next March.

But Palmor of the Foreign Ministry says Rabin would be willing to move forward at any time if he had an active counterpart in the Syria talks.

"If Assad announced tomorrow that he is willing to meet Mr. Rabin either in Damascus or in Jerusalem or in Tel Aviv or in Washington, the meeting would be welcomed immediately by the Israeli government. So, there is no question of trying to put Assad on hold, it's just that this is exactly what the Syrians are doing and we are simply a little tired of asking them to negotiate the way negotiations are being held with other countries."

Speaking on Tuesday, Rabin said he did not have high hopes in the wake of the latest Christopher-Assad meeting. And he added to the already bitter long-distance rhetoric flowing from Damascus and Jerusalem, when he told a parliamentary committee that Syria has become a center of terrorism the likes of which there has never been before.

Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said the Damascus meeting might have created the possibility of resuming the talks by reaching agreement on some procedures involved. But he said he was not sure, and that even if procedural details are settled there has been no substantive progress and there is no clear path which would lead to any.

Secretary Christopher himself only said the meeting was a "useful review" -- a phrase analysts took to mean no progress had been made. The gauge of Israel-Syria peace prospects rises and falls regularly. But this time Israeli, and even American, officials are not shying away from statements which seem to indicate a very deep low indeed, with few apparent prospects for a sharp rise any time soon.

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