Israeli proposals get cool response

SETTING OUT the Palestinian position in the Washington peace talks yesterday, Hanan Ashrawi, the Palestinian spokeswoman, made clear that they would refuse a partial transfer of power which left overall authority in the hands of the Israeli military.

Speaking as the two delegations prepared for their first serious discussions since the election of the new Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, Ms Ashrawi said such a proposal would violate the principles of the peace process which envisaged a meaningful transfer of authority to a Palestinian assembly.

The Israelis presented their proposed timetable for autonomy, saying they want to see elections to an administrative council in the occupied territories by March or, at the latest, by April.

Israeli officials said they had come to Washington armed with volumes of detailed proposals on the way the council will operate, to which the Palestinians will now be expected to respond.

While loath to undermine the general atmosphere of optimism surrounding the talks so far, the Palestinians yesterday hit out at attempts by some Israeli officials to undermine the credibility of the delegation by personal attacks in the media. Ms Ashrawi also warned against the euphoria of 'excessive optimism'.

The Palestinians were immediately put on their guard by Israel's affirmation that it would not budge from its position that the self-rule council will be small and limited in its powers. Palestinians want to elect a full legislative body. The Israeli spokesman, Yossi Gal, ruled out such a deal, saying autonomy would involve a Palestinian council 'and not a legislative body as an organ of statehood'.

Ms Ashrawi said: 'We do not want to re-do the occupation, or maintain the Israeli source of authority.' She added: 'You do not elect administrators, you elect representatives.'

Discussions started on Monday on a positive note after Israel signalled that it is prepared to do a deal with Syria on the Golan Heights. Yesterday Shimon Peres, the Israeli Foreign Minister, confirmed that Israel is now prepared to discuss withdrawal from part of the Golan Heights in exchange for a peace treaty with Syria.

Although this was seen as a move in the right direction, the Syrian delegation and the Syrian press in Damascus were calling for a total withdrawal.

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