JERUSALEM (Aug. 19)
Israel will offer a partial withdrawal from the Golan Heights and present a detailed proposal on Palestinian autonomy when the Middle East peace talks resume in Washington on Monday.
But its recommended timetable for elections in the administered territories may, in fact, be too fast for the Palestinians, who are deeply divided over the autonomy question.
Israel this week signaled its readiness to discuss territorial concession on the Golan Heights, as Arab foreign ministers met in Damascus to discuss the upcoming negotiations.
Israel sources said negotiators would offer Syria a peace settlement based on Security Council Resolution 242, which calls for withdrawal of forces from the territories, though they would only propose a partial withdrawal.
This is in contrast to the stand of the previous Likud government, which excluded the officially annexed Golan Heights from the terms of Resolution 242.
But Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin reportedly has instructed his negotiating team to draw a distinction between the Golan Heights and the Sinai, which Israel handed back in full to the Egyptians under the Camp David accords. Even under a full peace agreement, Syria will be told, Israel will not withdraw from the entire area of the Golan Heights.
The Arab foreign ministers in Damascus reportedly adopted a hard line going into the talks, apparently at the demand of Syrian President Hafez Assad.
The Arabs are furious at the American rapprochement with Israel, particularly the agreement on extending loan guarantees in the absence of a total freeze on Israeli settlements in the territories.
DIFFERENCES OVER SELF-GOVERNING BODY
Israel’s position at the talks faces opposition from within. Heads of Jewish councils in the Golan threatened this week to take “drastic measures” unless they received assurances that Israel would hold fast against territorial compromises on the Golan.
Three mayors in the area have asked to meet with Rabin before the talks start.
In briefing the negotiating teams, the prime minister also reportedly called for greater flexibility on the Palestinian issue.
In contrast to previous rounds, he instructed the negotiators to discuss matters of substance raised by the Palestinians, on condition that they touch on autonomy and not on long-term solutions to the conflict.
The three Israeli negotiating teams have been meeting for the past three days in anticipation of the talks.
The group headed by Cabinet Secretary Elyakim Rubinstein will have to discuss major differences with the joint Jordanian-Palestinian delegation over the shape of the Palestinian self-governing body.
Israel rejects the Palestinian demand for a legislative rather than an administrative council. With U.S. support, it is insisting on a body of 13 to 15 members, each representing an area of responsibility in the territories.
This would be in the spirit of the five-year, interim period of self-rule that would precede negotiations on the final status of the territories.
Palestinian calls for a legislative council of 180 members — identical with the number of seats reserved for representatives of the territories in the Palestine National Council — are unacceptable to Israel.
This is not only because of the obvious link with the Palestine Liberation Organization, but because such a council would be a far-too-fast shortcut to an independent Palestinian entity.
But even the more limited autonomy plan being advanced by Prime Minister Rabin may be too accelerated for the Palestinians, who have still given no formal response to the American invitation to the talks opening next week.
Their reluctance to move ahead stands in sharp contrast to the last round of negotiations, when they accused former Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir of stalling the peace talks.
PALESTINIANS DEEPLY SPLIT
Israel has set a target date of April 1, 1993 for general elections in the territories, with interim deadlines of Dec. 1 for agreement on their format and Feb. 1 for an accord on the powers of the new council.
The timetable assumes sufficient time between each stage for the parties to bridge differences, and an absence of crises that would stall the process.
But the reality is likely to be much different.
When the PLO summoned the Palestinian delegation to Tunis this week, eight days before the resumption of the talks in Washington, it was not merely a matter of form.
Palestinian radicals are furious over U.S. agreement to provide loan guarantees to Israel with what they perceive as virtually no Israeli quid pro quo.
Palestinian leaders Faisal Husseini and Dr. Saeb Erekat left the Jordanian capital of Amman on Tuesday for talks in the Syrian capital of Damascus with Arab leaders and PLO officials on the upcoming round of negotiations.
There were signs of a widening controversy within the Palestinian delegation over positions to be adopted at the talks. Leaders of the Palestinian delegation reportedly asked editors of East Jerusalem dailies to refrain from criticizing the work of the delegation on the grounds that it would jeopardize the Palestinian cause at a delicate stage of the talks.
But journalists identified with the rejectionist front, which opposes the peace process, registered strong objections to the request.
Observers say that once agreement is reached on the structure of the self-governing body, the two parties will have to discuss the scope of its authority. This will involve Israel yielding much of its present power in the territories, and the extent to which it will do so comprises another bone of contention.
One Israeli proposal calls for the establish- ment of a police force in the territories to take over criminal investigation and traffic control.
The Palestinians envisage a 20,000-strong police force, which would train in Jordan and comprise officers who had served in the Israeli police in the territories prior to the outbreak of the intifada.
“Since we will have no army, we will need a strong police force,” said Husseini.
Just how strong is another potentially controversial issue.
A GREATER EUROPEAN ROLE
Israel also wants an early agreement on customs, to prevent the local market from being exposed to cheap, competing merchandise.
Meanwhile, at the Foreign Ministry, preparations are under way for the next round of multilateral talks.
In sharp contrast to its predecessor, the new government is prepared to allow the Europeans a far more significant role in the working group on arms control in the Middle East.
Israel is suggesting that the European countries determine their precise status in the talks, in consultation with the two co-sponsors: the United States and Russia.