Peace talks on Middle East 'near deadlock'

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WASHINGTON - Israel's proposals for Palestinian self-rule are unacceptable, and negotiations are nearly deadlocked, the Palestinian spokeswoman, Hanan Ashrawi, said yesterday.

'There is, in a sense, a deadlock, and we are trying to find ways to end the deadlock,' she told reporters after the current round of Middle East talks at the US State Department entered a second week.

The Israeli delegation presented its proposals last week. They are centred on the Palestinians electing an administrative agency to take charge of day-to-day life in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

'We told them we cannot accept it,' Ms Ashrawi said. 'It is not acceptable.' She said the proposals do not recognise the land-rights of the Palestinians who live in the territories and do not encompass Jerusalem. To bridge the impasse, Ms Ashrawi said, the Palestinians had proposed the two sides work on legal issues and on the human-rights situation.

Three members of the Palestinian delegation were sent to Tunis for high-level consultations with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), Ms Ashrawi said. 'Everything that we present is approved by our leadership,' she added. 'As you know, high policy is made by the PLO.'

Earlier in the year the Palestinian delegation proposed election of a legislature and other measures to pave the way for a state in the West Bank and Gaza, with its capital in Jerusalem. Ms Ashrawi described the Israeli and Palestinian plans as 'two incompatible proposals'. And yet, she said, her delegation was trying 'to find an impasse-breaking device'. She said she hoped the Israelis would accept the idea of working groups.

The Israeli spokesman, Yossi Gal, said his side would be willing to establish a human-rights working group. But he said it should not side-track the larger issue of Palestinian self-rule.

Elyakim Rubinstein, the chief Israeli negotiator, said after the morning session: 'Unfortunately, we are a little bit frustrated.' He told reporters that while the Israeli plan did not offer the Palestinians everything they wanted, 'it is a sea-change from the existing situation'.

US officials, serving as co-sponsors with Russia, have made no open effort to reconcile differences in the talks. But Edward Djerejian, the Assistant Secretary of State for the Near East, has held separate meetings with negotiators.