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Reviving Israel's Peace Plan

Egypt tries to mediate while the US weighs giving Arafat a visa. MIDDLE EAST

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AGAINST long odds, last ditch efforts are being made to breathe life into the latest effort to resolve the tenacious conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. An Israeli plan unveiled six months ago calls for elections leading to talks on the future status of the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. But so far, the two sides have been unwilling to compromise on the ground rules for holding elections, leaving peace prospects in limbo.

Diplomatic observers say that rescuing the proposal from the fate of earlier Middle East peace plans now largely depends on events in Cairo and Washington.

Egypt. Partly because it is trusted by both sides, Egypt has been thrust into an important mediator's role in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.

``Everyone is looking to the Egyptians to bail us out,'' says one Western diplomat in Israel.

The focus of Egypt's diplomatic efforts has been a package of 10 ``conditions'' designed to bridge the gap between Israel and the Palestinians on the election plan.

Following a meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on Monday, Palestine Liberation Organization chairman Yasser Arafat was said to be poised to back the conditions, despite the fact that they omit any reference to a role for the PLO in future peace talks.

But Egypt's efforts could falter in the face of opposition by Israel's Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, partly because Mr. Shamir opposes the land-for-peace formula embodied in the conditions.

For its part, the United States backs Egypt's mediation role, but has declined to endorse the conditions outright. Israeli sources speculate that one reason is that open US backing could provoke a government crisis in Israel, since many Labor Party ministers have responded positively to the Egyptian conditions.

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