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New Israeli 'consessions' on West Bank?

Israeli President Yitzhak Navon is said to have presented a new set of proposals on Palestinian autonomy to Egypt's President Anwar Sadat for consideration.

He reputedly did so during his unprecedented five-day day visit to Egypt, during which the Israeli chief of state's personal charm and mastery of the Arabic language were prominently on display.

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The Navon proposals may help to break the logjam on Palestinian autonomy that has developed in three-way negotiations between Israel, Egypt, and the United States.

One measure of the political value of the Navon proposals can be assessed by the outcry heard here from hawkish annexationists determined to preserve the status quo and block any movement toward Palestinian home rule or self-determination.

But the fact that Prime Minister Menachem Begin, as well a his chief autonomy negotiator, Interior Minister Yosef Burg, shrugged off the parliamentary criticism may indicate the new ideas are genuinely intended for consideration at the next round of autonomy talks.

No date has yet been confirmed for the forthcoming session. However, Nov. 17 is frequently mentioned here, as is Washington, D.C., as the prospective mentioned here, as is Washington, D.C., as the prospective venue.

The common desire at the government level to pick up momentum may actually be spurred by Israeli concern over regional polarization caused by the Iraq-Iran war. Israel and Egypt seem to be seeking the role and image of stable, constructive partners -- in contrast with the warring radical regimes of the Middle East.

The proposals, described by the hawks here as "concessions," but whose very existence is denied by Messrs. Begin and Burg, deal with two of the autonomy problem's most complex factors: land and water rights.

They were outlined to the Knesset (parliament) committee on security and foreign affairs and subsequently leaked to the Israeli press, thereby enabling foreign correspondents to glean information otherwise inaccessible to them. The elite parliamentary unit is a closed forum except to select local reporters.

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Accoding to the English-language Jerusalem Post, the proposals are contained in a document drafted by Agriculture Minister Ariel Sharon -- normally a hawk.

The independent Hebrew daily Haaretz reported Oct. 30 that there would be no change in the current use and allocation of water resources in the Israeli-occupied West Bank under the Sharon plan.

However, further water-tapping would require the joint consent of the State of Israel and the Palestinian autonomous administration.

The land within the Palestinian autonomous regions would be put under the control of its civil administration except areas that are "privately owned and subject to private use and management." This is interpreted as an escape clause covering acreage belonging to West Bank and Gaza Strip Jewish settlements.

The hawkish members of the Knesset committee reportedly object to the proposals' failure to state that security within the areas earmarked for Palestinian autonomy will be the exclusive responsibility of Israel. Instead, they complain, the only refenrece on this score is that Israel will assist in protecting internal security.

National Religious Party deputy Haim Druckman was quoted as saying the consequence of all this would be to erode Israel's position in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. He reportedly warned that the proposals, if implemented, would effectively prevent the establishment of additional Jewish settlements -- a charge hotly denied by Interior Minister Burg.

In addition, Mr. Druckman, an Orthodox rabbi complained the proposals would grant autonomy to "the areas" (West Bank and Gaza Strip) instead of to "their residents," as previously defined by Mr. Begin.

The prime minister, who attended the session, reporttedly insisted that no concessions had been made and that the country's fundamental interests had not been endangered.

Ever since the start of autonomy negotiations, much of the operative diplomacy has been conducted behind the scenes, a fact borne out by the Israeli government's refusal to let the parliamentary committee examine the latest set of American proposals on Palestinian selfgovernment.

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