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It’s a New Decade, but Peace Plan Has a Decidedly Familiar Ring to It

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Just as many people in Israel are driving the last nail into Oslo’s coffin, along comes a reincarnation of the decade-old accords.

The faces were familiar — Yossi Beilin leading the 40-member Israeli team, with Yasser Abed Rabbo on the Palestinian side — but this time the secret proposal for Middle East compromise was drafted not in Norway’s capital but in the Jordanian resort town of Shuneh, on the Dead Sea.

Under the plan, Israel reportedly would relinquish sovereignty over Jerusalem’s Temple Mount and the Palestinians would give up the “right of return” for refugees who fled their homes during Israel’s 1948 War of Independence.

Neither delegation to the talks had any official weight, although Abed Rabbo — a former Cabinet member in the Palestinian Authority and a longtime Palestinian negotiator — said the authority would endorse the plan.

Israeli politicians criticized the plan, which is being called the Geneva Accords, due to the Swiss

Foreign Ministry’s role in financing and mediating the two and a half years of negotiations.

“The opposition is negotiating behind the government’s back with the Palestinians, while we are in a serious conflict with them, in a war against Palestinian terror, which is directed and encouraged by some of the people with whom the left-wing officials have met,” Israel’s health minister, Dan Naveh, said.

The Israeli delegation says Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was aware of the negotiations, a charge aides in the Prime Minister’s Office denied.

Israeli officials have said such opposition efforts are counterproductive.

“At a time when the whole world is becoming convinced by our arguments against Arafat, people stand up among us and come to a final agreement with them. This puts us in a ridiculous light,” a source in the Prime Minister’s Office told Ha’aretz.

Beilin, a former Knesset member and official of the left-wing Meretz Party, led the last round of peace talks under former Prime Minister Ehud Barak in Taba, Egypt, in January 2001, shortly before Barak was voted out of office.

For his part, Barak called the new peace proposal “delusional,” saying it “clearly harms the interests of the State of Israel.”

The draft reportedly has Israel agreeing to withdraw troops and settlers from much of the West Bank and Gaza Strip to allow for a Palestinian state.

Holy sites in Jerusalem would be shared by several religious groups, much as President Clinton envisaged at the failed 2000 peace talks at Camp David.

“The document provides solutions to final-settlement issues such as the status of Arab east Jerusalem, frontiers, the establishment of a Palestinian state and the right of returning home of Palestinian refugees who were forced to leave Palestine when Israel was founded in 1948,” said the deputy Palestinian ambassador to Jordan, Atallah Khairi.

Palestinians denied that the document requires them to give up the right of return for millions of refugees or their descendants. Israel regards the demand for a right of return essentially as the elimination of the Jewish state.

P.A. President Yasser Arafat has refused to budge on the right of return, but he backed the contacts that led to the meeting between Beilin and Abed Rabbo over the last year.

The initiative joins the People’s Voice for Peace, a grass-roots Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation campaign, in applying pressure on the Israeli government to restart peace efforts.

The plan reportedly will be mailed to all Israeli homes, according to the Jerusalem Post, but it has not yet been published.

“Certainly I welcome any movement that sees peacemaking with the Palestinians as a matter of agreeing on final issues first,” People’s Voice’s director, Ami Ayalon, a former chief of the Shin Bet domestic security service, told JTA. “But otherwise we will have to reserve judgement until all the facts are out” about the initiative, especially regarding the refugee question.

The two negotiating teams are expected to sign the final memorandum in the coming weeks.

Despite denials from Amman, the Ha’aretz newspaper said Jordanian officials had attended the talks.

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