PALESTINIAN delegates to the Middle East peace talks say they aim during the second round, expected to begin Monday in Washington, to put the issue of national rights on the peace process agenda.
"Our next battle is over the agenda of the talks," says Sari Nusseibeh, who heads the steering committee supervising the Palestinian part of the joint Jordanian-Palestinian delegation.
Mr. Nusseibeh and others want to make sure the talks deal with the Palestinian issue in much broader terms than merely arrangements regulating the relationship between Israel and the Pales- tinians under occupation.
They want to expand the agenda to include such sensitive issues as Palestinian national sovereignty, an Israeli withdrawal from occupied territories, and a resolution to the uncertainty facing more than 1 million Palestinian refugees.
The letter of invitation sent out by the American and Russian co-sponsors of the peace talks suggests that Israelis and Palestinians should focus on discussing models for self-rule for the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip during an interim period. Palestinians want to make sure that the suggested five-year interim period of self-rule - which they are trying to reduce to two years - will lead to a full Israeli withdrawal and Palestinian sovereignty.
The declared Palestinian objective is that self-rule should lead to an independent state in the occupied lands - an objective opposed by Israel and not supported by the US. Palestinian objective
Palestinian delegates say setting the agenda will be crucial to how fully the process addresses Palestinian national demands.
"It will not be easy. We shall try to expand the agenda, and the Israelis will try to limit it to certain issues," says Dr. Nussibeh.
Palestinians worry that unless arrangements for self-rule are linked with an eventual Israeli withdrawal, Israel will succeed in turning the the interim period into a permanent situation, blocking the door to any future Palestinian independence.
In practice, that means that the agenda should address the Palestinian-Israeli dispute on the basis of United Nations Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338. These call for an Israeli withdrawal from territories occupied in 1967 and compliance with the Fourth Geneva Convention, which would prevent Israel from changing the status of the occupied lands.
There is also another worrisome scenario beyond that of an interim period becoming a permanent solution. That, Palestinians say, is the expectation that Israel will try to confine talks to technical arrangements on a self-rule period, without linking it to any permanent settlement on the future of the occupied territories.
Although the Palestinians have so far refused to detail any model for self-rule, they say that when it is presented it will be based on the UN resolutions to ensure that it paves the way for an Israeli withdrawal.
The Israelis have in the past declared different plans for Palestinian self-rule based on a limited form of self-administration, all rejected by the Palestinians. Palestinian delegates do not expect any newly proposed Israeli model to be much different.
"We expect to be presented with a model that we cannot accept," says one prominent Palestinian delegate.
There is a general feeling, widely expressed in the Palestinian and Jordanian press, that Israel would allow Palestinians only limited authority over civil adminstration.
"We do not want our rights to be reduced to sweeping and collecting garbage," a quote often repeated by Palestinian cynics.
But some Palestinian analysts do not think next week's round in Washington will even get to the stage of discussing the basis of self-rule unless the controversy over the Palestinian role at the negotiations is resolved.
While the Palestinians seek a clear separation between the Israeli-Palestinian talks and the Jordanian-Palestinian talks, the Israelis favor having Jordan play the predominant role in both tracks. The first round of talks in Washington last month were bogged down by such differences, limiting talks to the hallways.
Although Israel has publicly accepted this US-suggested two-track approach - involving Arab-Israeli talks and Israeli-Palestinian talks - Palestinians say Israel wants to reduce Israeli-Palestinian negotiations to a technical matter that leaves major political decisions to the joint delegation led by Jordan. Pressure on Israel
But Palestinians now say they stand a better chance of pushing for separate representation. The Palestinians, according to delegate Ghassan Al-Khatib, are counting on international isolation of Israel, which they see resulting from Monday's United Nations condemnation of Israel's move to deport 12 Palestinians from the occupied territories - as well as a growing US frustration with its longtime ally.
"These two developments will be a helping factor in resolving the issue of separation between the Jordanian-Israeli track and Israeli-Palestinian track," said Dr. Khatib.
Jordan and the other Arab parties involved - Syria and Lebanon - support the Palestinian position, and are expected to form a firmer, united stance to pressure Israel to accept a clear separation of the two tracks.
"We are not interested in returning to the corridors," says Saeb Erekat of the steering committee, a clear indication that the Palestinians expect the co-sponsors to intercede to resolve the differences.