MEETING secretly 14 times in Norway, officials from Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) agreed on a draft Declaration of Principles - guidelines for a five-year, interim period of autonomy for Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. The official text has not yet been published, but a version leaked to an Israeli newspaper is believed to be substantially accurate.
The accord breaks the deadlock that had reigned in the Middle East peace talks in Washington since their launch nearly two years ago, and could pave the way to peace between Israel and its other neighbors - Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan. The draft agreement's most original feature is to set an accelerated timetable for full Israeli military withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and the West Bank town of Jericho, hence its ``Gaza and Jericho first'' label. Palestinians in the West Bank will have just as much autonomy over their lives as Gaza-Jericho residents, only three months later.
The accord leaves many thorny practical questions unanswered, which are to be negotiated once the declaration has been formally signed. It also postpones resolution of some key differences until negotiations on the final status of the occupied territories begin two years from now.
At a historic signing ceremony on the White House lawn today, Israeli and PLO leaders will mark the end of a century of conflict between Jews and Palestinians. But radicals in both camps are expected to do their utmost to sabotage the deal, in protest over the concessions that each side has made.
Below are the key issues resolved, or left unresolved, by the agreement. SELF-RULE
One of the agreement's central goals is the election, within nine months of the signing, of a Palestinian Interim Self-Government Authority. This authority, to be known as the Council, will conduct affairs for a five-year period until a permanent settlement is reached.
The Council's jurisdiction will cover all the territory captured by Israel in the 1967 war, except the Jewish settlements, East Jerusalem, military locations, and international borders.
Even before the Council is elected, PLO-nominated Palestinians will begin taking over responsibility from the Israeli Civil Administration throughout the occupied territories for education and culture, health, social welfare, direct taxation, and tourism. The Palestinians will also start building their own police force as soon as the agreement enters into force.
During the interim period, Israel will keep responsibility for external security and foreign relations, among other matters. Still undecided are the way the Council will be elected, its exact legislative and executive authority, and how its powers and responsibilities will be transferred from the Israeli occupation authorities. ISRAELI WITHDRAWAL
This is to happen faster and more fully in the Gaza Strip and Jericho than elsewhere in the West Bank, though the details of how it will happen are to be negotiated over the next two months.
The intention is that all Israeli military forces will have withdrawn completely from Gaza and Jericho within seven months of the signing of the Declaration of Principles. The Palestinian police force will be responsible for public order and internal security, but Israeli forces will be free to use the roads, since they will be responsible for internal security and public order in the Jewish settlements.
In the rest of the West Bank, Israel has promised to pull its troops out of populated areas to rural bases by the time elections are held - i.e. nine months after the declaration of principles enters into force. REFUGEES
PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat is saying that 800,000 Palestinian refugees will be allowed to return under the accord, suggesting that refugees who fled their homes in what is now Israel during the 1948 war will be able to come home.
But the declaration of principles says only that a committee of representatives from Israel, the Palestinians, Egypt, and Jordan will decide by consensus on the return of refugees who fled the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1967, during the Six-Day War. STATEHOOD
Mr. Arafat is confident that this accord sows the seed of full Palestinian statehood - the PLO's goal since its founding almost 30 years ago. Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin is equally insistent that statehood is out of the question.
Different Israeli leaders envisage different futures: Some see the Palestinians forming a confederation with Jordan, while others foresee an Israeli-Palestinian confederation.
That issue will only be decided in negotiations on the final status of the territories, which are to be finished within five years of the signing of the interim accord. OTHER ISSUES FOR TALKS ON FINAL STATUS
Jerusalem. For the time being, the city serves as the capital of Israel, the status that the Israeli government insists it will always have. Palestinian demands that it should also be the capital of Palestine have been put off, but Palestinian residents of Jerusalem will be allowed to vote in the Council elections. Whether they will also be able to stand as candidates still has to be decided.
Jewish settlements. These will remain during the interim period, and they and their 120,000 residents will be immune from Palestinian authority. Though many Palestinians see this as an affront, Jewish settlers worry that their isolation will eventually spell their demise.
Israeli military installations. These also will remain, except in Gaza and Jericho, so long as they are outside towns and villages. Particularly difficult to resolve will be the final status of the borders with Jordan and Egypt, which Israeli planners want to keep forever under Israeli control for security purposes.