Palestinians Worry About a US `Tilt' As Peace Talks Near
ISRAELI and Palestinian negotiators are preparing for the 10th round of peace talks proposed for June 15 with the goal of reaching a joint statement of principles regarding interim Palestinian self-rule in the Israeli-occupied territories.
But questions of linkage between the interim period and final status, and the jurisdictional powers of Palestinian self-government, still divide the two teams.
Arab foreign ministers and Palestinian leaders met Sunday and yesterday in Amman, Jordan, to hammer out a common negotiating stance.
The Palestinian response to the United States invitation seemed to reflect a growing desire to achieve a breakthrough following six months of diplomatic stalemate - and continued deterioration in the economic and human rights situation in the occupied territories.
But Palestinian spokeswoman Hanan Ashrawi charged that the US stance on a proposed joint Israeli-Palestinian statement of principles remains too close to Israel's own position on issues such as Palestinian control of the land, Jerusalem's status, and the linkage between the current negotiations and a permanent settlement.
Israel, the Palestinians, and Washington submitted drafts of a joint statement of principles in the ninth round of peace talks last month, but the sides could not reconcile their differences.
"We're extremely upset with the American position," Ms. Ashrawi told the Monitor. "What we saw from them was way below the minimum, not just in what was acceptable to Palestinians, but also what was compatible with former American assurances. Seventy percent of the statements in the American document come straight out of the Israeli document and only 5 percent are Palestinian proposals." She said they were still awaiting US response to a letter asking Washington to clarify its position. Considering final status
The key issue dividing Israel and the Palestinians is the "interlock" between the planned Palestinian autonomy being negotiated right now, and the permanent settlement that is to follow five years later.
Palestinians want written assurances that the principle of "trading land for peace" will be part of negotiations over the permanent settlement, due to begin three years into the autonomy period, says Palestinian delegate Freih Abu M'dein.
Israel, meanwhile, wants a more general reference to compliance with United Nations resolutions 242 and 338 on the occupied territories.
"We agree to a linkage, in time, between an interim solution and a permanent solution," said Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, speaking yesterday on Israel Radio. "The permanent solution will be based on UN Resolutions 242 and 330. They [the Palestinians] also want written `territories for peace.' I know that wasn't included in the American document."
Another issue dividing Israel and the Palestinians is the amount of West Bank land that would be under interim Palestinian rule. Palestinians want to be responsible for all of the land occupied in 1967 - including Jewish West Bank settlements and East Jerusalem.
Israel, for its part, envisages a three-tiered jurisdiction: Palestinian control over Arab farmland and cities; joint control over the unpopulated "state" lands; and Israeli control in West Bank Jewish settlements and Arab East Jerusalem. East Jerusalem
The status of East Jerusalem is a particularly thorny issue. The eastern sector of the city, with its Muslim, Jewish, and Christian holy sites, was captured by Israel from Jordan along with the West Bank in 1967. But East Jerusalem, unlike the West Bank, was later annexed to Israel, and Israeli politicians have repeatedly declared that they will never relinquish sovereignty.
Ashrawi said Israel's two-month-long closure of the West Bank and Gaza Strip has made East Jerusalem's status a focal point of the negotiations since West Bank Palestinians cannot travel there freely.
She said it has underlined the need for Israel to treat the occupied lands, including East Jerusalem, "as an integral whole" in the talks. "They are depriving East Jerusalem's commercial, cultural, political, and religious institutions of the life blood they need from the West Bank and Gaza."
Yossi Gal, spokesman for the Israeli delegation, said Jerusalem and other questions of territorial control should be saved for negotiations on a permanent status for the territories.
"We are in a two-stage process," he argued. "The first stage deals with self-government, a transfer of functional authority from the Israeli civil administration to the Palestinians. The territory issue, the sovereignty issue, belongs to the final status negotiations."
Some observers speculate that Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's recent offer to implement Palestinian self-government first in the Gaza Strip might offer one way out of the deadlock.
"If the negotiations over the future of the Gaza Strip will be the first stage in the framework of an overall agreement, then it would be acceptable to Palestinian opinion," Faisal Husseini, the Palestinian delegation leader, was quoted as saying.