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Israeli-plo Talks on Autonomy Have Gotten off to a Good Start

Negotiations between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization on implementing Palestinian autonomy in the Gaza Strip and West Bank town of Jericho got off to a good start this week.

The personal atmosphere was warm and, at least at the start, there were no major obstacles. However, both parties were viewing each other’s intentions carefully, trying to spot potential pitfalls.

In Beijing, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, nearing the end of his first official visit to China, said that even if the dialogue with PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat was unpleasant to some, once the decision was made that he was the partner, one had to make the best of the situation.

The Israeli-PLO talks continued in the Sinai border town of Taba, where the focus Thursday was the Palestinian demand for the release of Palestinian security prisoners.

Jamal Zakout, a former intifada leader in Gaza, told reporters that he hoped all Palestinian prisoners would be released. He said it was unacceptable that “PLO soldiers” would sit in jail while their leaders negotiate with Israel.

Even as Israelis and Palestinians learned that they could talk to each other without slamming doors, internal tensions within the decision-making echelons in Israel came onto the surface on Thursday.

Deputy Defense Minister Mordechai Gur, who is close to Rabin, sharply criticized Deputy Foreign Minister Yossi Beilin, a supporter of Foreign Minister Shimon Peres. Beilin reportedly discussed the future permanent status of the territories when he met Arafat in Tunis on Wednesday.

Beilin told Israel Television on Wednesday that he had spoken with Arafat about “the direction of a permanent solution, in which direction things could go.”

In a radio interview, Gur said Beilin’s comments were “grave” because he violated Rabin’s specific instructions.

He said Beilin’s comments created the impression that the government was talking in different voices, which could give the impression that the public had not received true and reliable information.

In another development, Beilin met Thursday in Tunis with his Tunisian counterpart. Following the meeting, Beilin said Tunisia was interested in establishing relations with Israel, but in stages.

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