Talks on Elections Proceed in Spite of Furor over Land

Though locked in a feud over Israel’s plans to expropriate Arab-owned land in eastern Jerusalem, Palestinian and Israeli negotiators are moving forward with their talks on the next phase of Palestinian self-rule.

Meeting this week in Cairo, Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization agreed that Palestinians would control security during elections in the territories.

Israel Television, quoting a member of the Palestinian team, said the two sides have already agreed on eligibility for candidacy and international supervision of the elections.

But the two sides remain divided on whether polling booths would be set up in eastern Jerusalem, and whether eastern Jerusalem residents could run for election.

The head of the Palestinian negotiating team, Saeb Erekat, said he was pessimistic that the two sides could conclude an agreement by the agreed target date of July 1.

He was especially pessimistic about an Israeli withdrawal from West Bank towns, which is being negotiated in separate discussions.

The second phase of self-rule was supposed to include a redeployment of Israeli troops on the eve of elections.

“I did not see any intention to reach an agreement,” Erekat said.

The head of the Israeli team, Foreign Ministry legal adviser Yoel Zinger, did not comment.

The talks came as Palestinian protesters demonstrated in Gaza against Israel’s decision to expropriate land in eastern Jerusalem.

The plan to expropriate nearly 140 acres, some of it Arab-owned, for housing and a police station, was approved by the Israeli Cabinet on Sunday.

The move prompted an international outcry, including a debate in the U.N. Security Council on the issue.

About 300 protesters from pro- and anti-peace factions participated, including PLO leader Yasser Arafat’s Fatah faction, the Marxist Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the Fundamentalist Islamic Jihad group.

The protesters carried Palestinian flags and banners calling for the removal of Jewish settlement from Gaza and condemning the expropriations.

Meanwhile, in Tel Aviv, another group of Israeli and Palestinian negotiators discussed transferring additional areas of government in the West Bank to the Palestinians, even before the elections.

Israel agreed to transfer control over labor affairs, one of five areas up for discussion Tuesday. The other four were trade and industry, insurance, postage and energy.

The Palestinian official in charge of civil affairs, Jamil Tarifi, called on Israel to hand over responsibility for all areas of administration.

“We would like to assume responsibility for all of the spheres,” he told reporters.

The PLO took over control of health, education, welfare, taxation and tourism earlier this year.

The additional five areas to be transferred to the PLO, known as “early empowerment,” was due to have taken place sooner.

But Israel delayed the transfer due to a number of concerns, primarily terror.

The head of the Israeli team, Civil Administration head Brig. Gen. Oren Shahor, said he hoped to reach an accord within weeks.

“Our aim is that by July 1, perhaps earlier, we will finish transferring these authorities,” he told reporters.

The two sides agreed to resume talks next week in Cairo.

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