Negotiators plan to draw from the old and new at Middle East peace talks

August 27, 1993|By New York Times News Service

JERUSALEM -- When the Middle East peace talks resume in Washington on Tuesday, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators are expected to discuss mixtures of new and old ideas that have senior officials on both sides speaking optimistically about a possible breakthrough.

Perhaps the most talked-about new plan would quickly give the Palestinians authority over the tumultuous Gaza Strip and the quiet West Bank city of Jericho, with Israeli forces pulling back from those areas. More sensitive questions of control over the rest of the West Bank and -- thornier yet -- the future of Jerusalem would be left for later.

The "Gaza and Jericho first" idea has been embraced by Yasir Arafat, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization, and has qualified support from Foreign Minister Shimon Peres of Israel. But Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin is said to be highly skeptical, and in the end he holds the only opinion in the Israeli government that counts.

Aides say Mr. Rabin feels that the Gaza-Jericho concept is too broad. One apparent reason is that Mr. Rabin is focused on limited Palestinian self-rule for the two areas, without full Israeli withdrawal, while Mr. Arafat has in mind a "mini-state," a Gaza-Jericho foothold for eventual full statehood throughout Israeli-occupied territories.

Nonetheless, Israeli officials have dropped broad hints of secret meetings with the PLO to produce the outlines of a possible deal. Without spelling out details, Mr. Peres said this week that an agreement was within reach. "I think we have worked out a package deal which is accepted more or less by the Palestinians and us," he said.

Hanan Ashrawi, spokeswoman for the Palestinian delegation, also speaks hopefully about "a new course of events," including the Gaza-Jericho idea, that could breathe fresh life into stutter-start negotiations that have gone nowhere for more than two years.

But she plays down prospects for an immediate breakthrough. Other Palestinians and Israeli officials caution that the idea of Gaza-Jericho is still only that: an idea, not a formal proposal on the table.

Moreover, while the plan looms large for the Palestinians, it is only one of several themes forming Mr. Peres' "package deal." Other elements are not new, and agreement on them has eluded negotiators in previous rounds.

Under the basic formula for the talks, the two sides are supposed to focus on creating interim Palestinian self-rule in Gaza and the West Bank over the next five years, while Israel retains ultimate control. The territories' final status -- like Israeli withdrawal under U.N. land-for-peace resolutions, and a possible Palestinian state -- are to be delayed.

But with the talks seriously stalled and with many Palestinians afraid that an interim stage could drag on for many years, negotiators have begun looking for shortcuts.

One idea that the Israelis are promoting hard, dubbed "early empowerment," would hand the Palestinians responsibility almost right away for a range of public services in the territories. But Palestinians view the plan coolly, worrying that it will leave them with routine functions while preserving Israel's military occupation.

Another suggestion, "Gaza first," would rapidly provide Palestinian self-rule in the impoverished coastal strip even while details are still being ironed out for the more complicated and emotionally charged West Bank.

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