PALESTINE Liberation Organization and senior Israeli officials are expected to work out a deal to resume stalled peace talks after the United Nations Security Council called Friday for an international presence to protect Palestinians.
A top-level Israeli delegation traveled to Tunis last night for discussions based on a Norwegian initiative, which calls for joint security arrangements to protect Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied territories and for a speedy Israeli troop withdrawal.
According to Palestinian officials, PLO chairman Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin discussed the Norwegian initiative by telephone last week, and the Israeli leader has accepted in principle linking the resumption of talks with both security arrangements and a renewed priority on Israeli withdrawal.
Norway, the country that hosted secret negotiations that culminated in the historic peace accord last September, has suggested that an Israeli withdrawal start a week after resumption of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
``Arafat says that Rabin was extremely positive, but the Israeli prime minister declined to commit himself to any specific steps,'' says an aide of Mr. Arafat who asked not to be named.
PLO wants settlers out
The priority for the PLO remains the evacuation of around 450 settlers from the center of Hebron and a role in protection for the Palestinians in the ancient city that has been under curfew since the massacre, Palestinian officials say.
They say Arafat will suggest setting up a joint PLO-Israeli command to control security in Hebron, but he will not accept a token Palestinian police force under Israeli Army jurisdiction.
The PLO remains hesitant to resume the negotiations, even after the passing of a crucial United Nations Security Council resolution calling for international protection for the Palestinians in the occupied territories.
``This remains on paper, we need to see practical steps taken,'' PLO executive committee member Yasser Abed Rabo says.
The Norwegian proposal by Deputy Foreign Minister Terry Larsen, who has been in Tunis for 10 days, includes these steps:
* Joint Israeli and Palestinian police units take control of security in Hebron. The patrols should be under international command.
* Israel, unilaterally and without prior announcement, begins evacuating some 450 settlers living in the center of Hebron.
* Israel takes measures to restrict movement of armed Israeli settlers in Arab-populated areas.
* Israel starts troop withdrawal a week after the resumption of negotiations, prior to the signing of a detailed self-rule plan for Palestinians.
Palestinian officials say that Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Palestinian leader Faisal Husseini have discussed the Norwegian initiative. The officials say that Israel has not rejected the Norwegian ideas, but that Mr. Peres seems to have a different idea on how to implement them.
In public statements, Peres said that the Palestinian police force will have more authority than the one that previously operated under Israeli jurisdiction; its members collectively resigned during the Palestinian intifadah in 1987.
Lack of progress
In Tunis, Palestinian reluctance to resume the talks has been reinforced by a lack of practical steps taken to defuse the tension in Hebron and Washington's abstention on two clauses of the UN Security Council resolution passed last Friday. After postponing the vote for more than two weeks, the US abstained on a paragraph reaffirming that the 1949 Geneva Convention is applicable to the territories occupied by Israel since 1967, including East Jerusalem.
The PLO leadership fears that the US vote signalled a serious departure from declared US policies, which have always regarded the West Bank and Gaza Strip as occupied territories and have never recognized the Israeli annexation of Jerusalem. (Defiance in Gaza, Page 4.)
The US position seems to be drawing closer to that of Israel, which refuses to abide by the Geneva Convention. The convention stipulates that occupying powers secure protection for people under their occupation and bans any changes in the national identity of the captured land. The Israeli official argument has been that the Geneva Convention is inapplicable to the West Bank and Gaza since these are ``disputed'' rather than ``occupied terrritories.''
``If the US and Israel want to impose this interpretation as the basis for the negotiations, this will prejudice the final outcome of the negotiations,'' says a senior PLO official.