WASHINGTON (Aug. 26)
As anticipated, Israeli negotiators have presented the Palestinian delegation to the Middle East peace talks with new and detailed proposals for interim Palestinian self-government in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
According to Elyakim Rubinstein, chairman of the Israeli team negotiating with the joint Jordanian-Palestinian delegation, the Israelis on Tuesday evening proposed a plan in which the Palestinians in the territories would elect an administrative council to manage their day-to-day affairs.
The Palestinians had in a previous round of talks submitted their own plan for an elected legislative body, which Israel opposes. But so far the Palestinians have indicated they are receptive to the Israeli plan, at least as a point of departure for negotiations.
Rubinstein was cautious but hopeful in remarks he made at a news briefing Wednesday.
“Nobody should delude themselves (that) these are easy things to tackle,” he said. “The task is awesome.”
But he added that “progress should and can be made,” given the accelerated pace of the talks, the detail of the proposals and the spirit of openness that has prevailed among all parties this week.
Rubinstein would not spell out the details of the plan submitted to the Palestinians, saying they should be left at the negotiating table.
Indeed, in contrast to some of the public posturing in the past, all the delegations appear to agree that the less told to the news media about the substance of the talks, the better.
‘A MAJOR STEP FORWARD’
But Rubinstein did say the proposal addresses the powers and responsibilities of the council, its size and composition, and a timetable for the elections.
He said the Palestinians have been offered proposals for how the council would manage matters in areas such as justice, police work, labor, ecology, taxation, and industry and commerce.
Some areas would be handled jointly with Israeli authorities, while matters of defense and foreign affairs, as well as all matters pertaining to Jewish residents of the territories, reportedly would be exempt from Palestinian jurisdiction.
The proposal falls short of Palestinian calls for a legislative body with full legislative authority. But Rubinstein said such an institution would be a symbol of an independent state, which Israel would find unacceptable.
Rubinstein defended the administrative council as the appropriate mechanism for an interim Palestinian self-government. He said it represents a “major step forward” from where Palestinians stand now and would “leave options open” for discussions down the road on the final status of the territories, as spelled out by the two-stage formula agreed to in Madrid.
That formula calls for the establishment of an interim government for five years, with negotiations on the permanent status of the territories to start at the beginning of the third year. It stipulates that during the interim negotiations, Israel will not be required to commit itself to any specific final outcome.
Rubinstein said that the Palestinian plan for a legislative body structures “the final status here and now” and that, given the “situation between us and the Palestinians, things can’t be solved right away.”
He said both peoples need a period of peaceful coexistence, “working together in a new way before (determining) the final status.”
The Israeli negotiator said his delegation did not formally request an end to the intifada, the ongoing, sometimes-violent Palestinian uprising against the Israeli presence in the territories. But he implied the Israelis expected the Palestinian leadership would make an effort to call for calm.
Noting the recent series of confidence building measures in the territories announced by the Israeli government, he said he hoped the effort would be reciprocated.