Disclosures of secret contacts between members of Israel's Likud bloc and prominent supporters of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in the Israeli-occupied West Bank have revealed unexpected common ground for understanding between the right-wing party and Palestinian nationalists. The revelations have drawn immediate denunciations from Israelis and Palestinians. Spokesmen in both camps say those involved in the informal contacts overstepped the consensus of their communities.
But in the view of some observers here, the plan for extensive Palestinain self-rule in the occupied territories - worked out between three Palestinians and a Likud member - could act as a model for future negotiations. These observers caution that the four months of informal contact are far from being the beginning of an official negotiating process that might lead to a comprehensive settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The contacts were held between Moshe Amirav, a member of the Herut Party, the major element in the Likud bloc, and three Palestinians: Sari Nusseibeh, a philosophy professor at Bir Zeit University; Faisal Husseini, an activist considered to be the senior PLO representative in the West Bank (he is currently under arrest); and Salah Zuheikeh, a newspaper editor.
The talks produced agreement on a plan for Palestinian self-rule in the West Bank and Gaza Strip as an interim stage to a final settlement. According to the proposal a Palestinian ``entity'' would be established, whose administration would have the right to control natural resources and govern the Palestinian population. The entity's capital would be in East Jerusalem and it would have elements of nationhood: a flag, a national anthem, a currency, and the authority to issue travel documents, though Israel would control foreign affairs. Israeli troops would withdraw to specific strategic locations.
Other details of what was agreed upon were blurred during the storm of controversy which erupted this week after the contacts were revealed.