JERUSALEM (Jul. 17)
The Prime Minister’s Office has dismissed as “nonsense” a report that Israel is secretly negotiating with the Palestine Liberation Organization for an interim settlement in the administered territories.
The report is totally untrue, Avi Pazner, Premier Yitzhak Shamir’s media adviser, declared Sunday. The PLO is not acceptable to Israel as a partner to negotiations, he said.
Pazner was referring to an interview with Bassam Abu-Sharif, one of PLO chief Yasir Arafat’s closest aides, just published by the French news agency, Agence France-Presse.
According to Abu-Sharif, Israel and the PLO have been negotiating for some time, with Romania serving as intermediary. In fact, Shamir made an offer to a high-level Palestinian delegation in Bucharest late last month, Abu-Sharif claimed.
According to the PLO official, the Israeli leader proposed that the PLO take over many of the functions now handled by the Israeli civil administration in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
That would be in line with the Camp David autonomy model, which prescribed a large measure of self-rule for the Palestinians, leaving Israel in charge mainly of security matters, pending a final peace settlement.
According to Abu-Sharif, the Palestinian counterproposal was for an interim period during which the United Nations would govern the administered territories and a plebiscite would be held to determine their future status.
FIRST TALK OF INTERIM PLAN
The Agence France-Presse interview marks the first time a ranking PLO official has spoken explicitly of an interim settlement with Israel. Abu-Sharif challenged Shamir to deny his story, claiming he has the necessary documents to prove its authenticity.
Israeli policymakers are not impressed. They believe certain elements of the PLO have embarked on a peace initiative calculated, among other things, to portray Israel as the obstacle to Middle East peace.
Abu-Sharif has given several interviews in the past month in which he has stressed the PLO’s readiness to hold direct talks with Israel in the framework of an international conference.
He has gained credibility in some circles. Last month, 15 prominent American Jews, supporters of the International Center for Peace in the Middle East, spoke approvingly of a document Abu-Sharif circulated at the recent Arab summit meeting in Algiers.
It was titled “Prospects for a Palestinian-Israeli Settlement” and envisioned the eventual creation of an independent Palestinian state coexisting peacefully alongside Israel.
The Romanian connection also gained some credibility for the PLO official.
Shamir acknowledged on July 10 that he had received a private message from Romanian President Nicolae Ceausescu, but he refused to divulge its contents to the Cabinet.
That raised speculation that the message was a proposal for peace talks from the PLO. It was delivered by a special emissary of Ceausescu, Konstantin Metea, to Shamir and to Foreign Minister Shimon Peres. Peres also kept mum.
Israeli sources said the PLO’s offer was for an autonomy-style interim arrangement in the territories. The sources said both Israeli ministers rejected it.
But according to Abu-Sharif’s French press agency interview, the interim plan was offered by the Israelis, but turned down by the Palestinians, who prefer United Nations supervision during an interim stage.