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U.S. Team Departs from Israel Saying Peace Plan Has ‘potential’

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The first team of experts the Bush administration has dispatched to the Middle East flew home Tuesday night, apparently encouraged that Israel’s new peace initiative has some “potential.”

Dennis Ross, chief of policy planning at the U.S. State Department, who headed the mission, said before the group’s departure that there was “reason to believe that there is a potential opportunity” for peace and pledged “hard work” by the United States to build on it.

In addition to its discussions with Israeli leaders, the group visited Egypt and Jordan and met with two delegations of Palestinian leaders in the West Bank.

According to Ross, the other parties in the region are studying the plan “very seriously.”

But the people directly concerned, the Palestinians in the territories, seem unconvinced.

The Israeli military authorities arrested one of six West Bank dignitaries who was to meet with the Americans.

He is Hassan Khatib, a lecturer at Bir Zeit University, who was seized in a roundup of Palestinian activists only hours before the meeting was to take place.

A spokesman for the other five, Dr. Sari Nusseibeh, also a member of the Bir Zeit faculty, told reporters afterward that they had categorically rejected the election proposals offered by the Israeli government.

“On the other hand, we are for elections as a principle,” Nusseibeh said. But they would have to be “part of a process that would clearly lead to the realization of Palestinian rights,” including “the right to statehood.”

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