Wed, Oct 15, 2003 - Page 6 News List

Symbolic Mideast peace deal written

FOUNDATION LAID Israeli and Palestinian politicians drew up an agreement calling for compromises which they hope could form the basis of future negotiations


A group of prominent Israeli and Palestinian politicians, working outside official channels, have written a symbolic peace agreement that they hope could be a foundation for future negotiations.

The 50-page draft agreement was completed over the weekend in neighboring Jordan by the two delegations, which included current parliament members and former Cabinet members on both sides.

The proposal offers highly specific solutions, and calls for major compromises on the most sensitive issues that have torpedoed previous peace efforts, ranging from the status of Palestinian refugees to the Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

Official planning toward a peace agreement is currently frozen.

This new proposal has no official sanction, and the right-wing Israeli government immediately denounced it, calling it irresponsible, freelance diplomacy.

"The public rejected these same political figures," Limor Livnat, Israel's education minister, said of the Israeli delegation, led by left-wing politicians. "In no democratic country would this be acceptable," he said.

The Palestinian Authority did not immediately comment, though the Palestinian team included senior figures with close ties to Palestinian President Yasser Arafat.

The Swiss government supported the two-year negotiating effort, and the proposal, dubbed the "Geneva Accords," will be formally signed at a ceremony planned for next month in that Swiss city.

The Israeli delegation was led by former justice minister Yossi Beilin. The most prominent Palestinian was Yasser Abed Rabbo, a former information minister.

Under the proposal, a Palestinian state would be created that would include the entire Gaza Strip and almost all of the West Bank. The capital would be in the Arab neighborhoods of east Jerusalem.

The plan identifies about 20 of the larger Israeli settlements among the 140 in the West Bank that Israel would keep, and Israel would give the Palestinians land in southern Israel in compensation.

On another delicate issue, the plan calls for the Palestinians to have ultimate control over Jeru-salem's most important and contested holy site, called the Noble Sanctuary by Muslims, the mosque compound in East Jerusalem.

Israel would relinquish its claim of sovereignty over the site, which Jews call the Temple Mount. Israel would keep full control of the Western Wall, the Jewish place of prayer that borders the compound.

Regarding another complicated question, 4 million Palestinian refugees from the Arab-Israeli war in 1948 and their descendants would be allowed to live in a future Palestinian state, move to a third country or receive compensation for their losses. But they could not return to their old land inside Israel without Israeli consent, according to the plan.

"The Palestinians tried very hard to put the word `return' in the document," said David Kimche, a member of the Israeli delegation.

The Israeli side was able to win this concession by giving the Palestinians full control of the Jerusalem holy site, he added.

The delegations began their talks from the point where Israeli-Palestinian negotiations broke off in January 2001, several months after the current fighting began.

Ehud Barak, the Israeli prime minister who pushed hard for a deal, was roundly defeated in a February 2001 election by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

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