AS Arab-Israeli peace talks entered their third round of negotiations, details of an Israeli plan for Palestinian autonomy have further distanced the two parties, revealing a hardening of the Israeli position on the occupied territories.
The Arab delegations representing Jordan, the Palestinians, Syria, and Lebanon insisted that territorial compromise should be the objective of the Washington negotiations, while the Israeli delegation focused on future Arab-Israeli coexistence.
The Israeli proposal for interim self-government arrangements (ISGA), set out in a 10-page document read by this reporter, does not involve an Israeli withdrawal from the territories occupied by the
Jewish state after the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. Instead, it offers limited administrative authority for the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, while asserting the continuation of Israeli administrative and military presence.
The Palestinian delegation dismissed the proposal, handed to them
Monday, as an attempt to consolidate Israeli control of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The main obstacle to progress in the talks has been irreconcilable positions on the issue of territorial compromise.
Israel insists that two United Nations resolutions calling on Israel to exchange land for peace do not apply to the West Bank and Gaza. For their part, the Arab delegations have declined to discuss normalizing relations with Israel unless Israel agrees to territorial compromise and a broader definition of Palestinian rights.
Israeli spokesman Yosef Ben-Aharon conceded that the Arab and Israeli negotiators were pushing in different directions. "There was too much focus on territory and Palestinian rights [by the Arab delegations]... rather than on aspects of peace," he said.
This philosophical difference is reflected in the conflicting visions of interim self-government implied in the Israeli plan and in a plan presented by Palestinians during the second round of the Washington talks.
The Palestinian plan calls for interim authority for Palestinians, while the Israeli plan speaks of arrangements and ideas for "peaceful coexistence" that preclude any change in the status of the occupied territories toward ultimate Palestinian sovereignty.
The Palestinian plan also calls for internationally supervised elections for a Palestinian assembly, the transfer of administrative and judicial power to Palestinians, and the eventual redeployment of the Israeli Army to border areas.
The Israeli plan does not refer to any military pullout nor to Palestinian elections. It says Israelis will continue to live in the territories and that "the sole responsibility for security - external and internal - will be that of Israel."
The two plans are also at variance on whether Israel could continue to build Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza.
In their separate proposals, both sides are trying to ensure that the interim period does not foreclose their own vision of final settlement. The two models also differ on the duration of the interim period: Israelis talk about five years; the Palestinians are trying to reduce it to two.
Moreover, the Palestinian plan calls for a gradual transfer of control over the people and land to Palestinians, while the Israelis argue that any interim arrangement should deal with people and not "with the status of the territories."
The Israeli proposals fall far short of their own autonomy plan presented during the Egyptian-Israeli Camp David negotiations more than 10 years ago, that involved Palestinian elections and a form of Israeli military pullout.
Differences over the interim period are expected to influence the positions of the other Arab negotiators, especially since there has been no progress reported with Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon.
The Israeli-Jordan talks, according to Jordanian delegates, did not move forward much as Jordan refused to discuss bilateral disputes unless Israel commits itself to adhere to UN Security Council Resolution 242, that calls for an Israeli withdrawal from Arab territories in return for peace, and a freeze on Israeli settlements.
"We cannot move forward unless we lay the foundations" of Resolution 242, says Munzther Haddadin, a member of the Jordanian delegation. Once Israeli settlements directly infringe on Jordan "as they draw on Jordan's water rights, and cause a de facto deportation of Palestinians to Jordan."
Prior to the beginning of this round of talks the four Arab delegations have agreed to discuss any aspects of peace with Israel until the latter made it clear that it was ready to withdraw.
Chief Israeli negotiator Eliakim Rubinstein indicated that no progress had been made in talks with the Syrian and Lebanese delegations. He said that the Syrians showed no readiness to accept a document from the Israelis listing areas of agreement, while the Lebanese were bringing up Security Council Resolution 542 (which calls for an Israeli withdrawal from south Lebanon).
Arab delegations argue that the Israeli delegation is deliberately avoiding discussion of a territorial compromise so as not to jeopardize prospects for Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir to win upcoming elections.
"The Israeli election campaign entered the negotiations room long before the delegates," said Saeb Erekat, member of the Palestinian delegation.