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Three-stage Approach to Autonomy Talks is Being Worked out

Working groups representing Israel, Egypt and the United States met in Tel Aviv today to map out a three-stage approach to the autonomy negotiations which are to be resumed in Cairo Wednesday on the ministerial level. Members of all three delegations stressed the desire for a fresh start, avoidance of the pitfalls that caused the talks to be suspended some 18 months ago, and a speeding up of the negotiating process.

Israel wants an agreement on autonomy for the West Bank and Gaza Strip before it completes its withdrawal from Sinai next April. The U.S. is anxious for maximum progress toward resolving the Palestinian issue while it attempts to build a stable strategic alliance in the Middle East. Egypt hopes to prove to the Palestinians and the rest of the Arab world that the aim of its peace treaty with Israel was not solely to regain Sinai.

AIMS OF THE THREE STAGES

The working teams held informal consultations this morning and met again in the afternoon. They are seeking to formulate a “statement of intent” at the first stage of the renewed talks which the ministers of the three countries can approve and announce to Cairo by the end of the week.

The goal of the first stage is an agenda and timetable which will avoid sub-committees in order not to reach a stalemate at the outset of the talks. The hope is to agree on a single joint working group to discuss the various aspects of autonomy in detail in virtually continuous sessions.

The groups would consist of senior civil servants who would refer back to their ministers regularly but without breaking off discussions each time a delicate issue arises. The ministerial level talks will be primarily to give formal and final approval to the agreements reached at the lower level.

The aim of the second stage of the talks will be to reach a “declaration of principles” that spells out the broad areas of autonomy to be agreed upon but without laying down a detailed blueprint for negotiations.

The third and final stage is an accord on autonomy that would include detailed explanations, specifics of how its various provisions would be implemented and the issues left open for negotiations with the Palestinians and Jordan. It would be pointed out that the autonomy accord is a transitional agreement, the final form of which will be subject to further negotiations.

SEES NO AUTONOMY ACCORD – WITHDRAWAL LINKAGE

Interior Minister Yosef Burg, Israel’s chief autonomy negotiator, said in an interview over the weekend that Israel seeks no linkage between an accord on autonomy and its final withdrawal from Sinai. He said he hoped written agreements would emerge from the next round of talks.

Burg repeated that Israel is prepared to grant the Palestinians “80 percent of self-rule,” meaning that they would be able to run their daily lives. The 20 percent control retained by Israel would cover defense and foreign affairs, he said. But observers said the Palestinians were not likely to accept this division inasmuch as they regard defense and foreign affairs to be key elements of the national sovereignty for which they strive and which Israel is determined to deny them.

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