Tough deal for the Palestinians: Israel's latest and best offer on autonomy for the West Bank still falls far short of self-rule, writes Sarah Helm in Jerusalem

THE FIRST serious discussions between Palestinians and Israelis begin on Monday on the shape of Palestinian autonomy in the Israeli occupied territories. Under terms drawn up at the Madrid conference almost a year ago, where the present peace round was launched, these negotiations aim only at agreeing 'interim arrangements'. Once this interim autonomy is in place, the two sides can discuss options for final arrangements. The Palestinians aspire to an independent state.

Since the election of Yitzhak Rabin as Prime Minister in June, Israel has been portrayed as making all the concessions. However, when the hard proposals are tabled in Washington, these concessions may appear to have been exaggerated. Large swathes of Jewish settlement are excluded from the so-called freeze on building. And Israel is manoeuvring to hold on to nearly 70 per cent of the land of the West Bank.

Furthermore, the powers being offered to the interim authority are limited. On Israeli terms, the Palestinian body would be more like a local council than a fledgling government.

What the Israelis can argue next week, however, is that theirs is a serious offer - the first the Palestinians have had for many years, and the last they are likely to get. Furthermore, a deal done on autonomy does not, in theory, prejudice later talks on the final status of the region. Israel says that if the Palestinians show they can make autonomy work, confidence will build for a more permanent transfer of power.

Israel's proposals for autonomy are closely based on the Camp David accords of 1978 with Egypt. These would allow the Palestinians to elect a council of fewer than 20 people. It would have no powers over foreign policy or security but would be able to administer other functions now carried out by the military authorities: education, health, trade and criminal justice, for example.

This is an improvement on what was offered by Yitzhak Shamir, Mr Rabin's predecessor, who proposed only that the Palestinians should be able to have municipal elections. The administrative council would have no legislative powers, no control over east Jerusalem, and would be able only to make by-laws and regulations, while 2,000 Israeli military laws and regulations would remain.

The council would remain answerable to the military governor of the occupied territories. If its by-laws were refused, the only appeal would be to the Israeli High Court of Justice. Although military forces would withdraw from centres of Arab population, the occupation 'status quo' would remain in place during autonomy, as Shimon Peres, the Foreign Minister, has confirmed.

The Palestinians want a full legislative body. They argue that the Israeli plan allows them only the power to enact the occupation laws and decrees. It is in this key area that they will fight hardest in the negotiations.

The Palestinian spokeswoman, Hanan Ashrawi, said this week: 'We are negotiating a Palestinian interim self-government, authority and arrangement . . . that will allow us to carry out a meaningful transfer of authority from Israeli occupation to a Palestinian, elected, national authority.'

In addition to its limited legal powers, the Israelis refuse to give the Palestinian council any clear territorial boundaries. It is, say the Israelis, autonomy of people, not land. The Palestinians insist that the borders of their autonomous region be clearly defined as containing all the lands seized by Israel in 1967, including east Jerusalem. Without a clear territorial map of where their authority lies, their powers would be meaningless, they say.

By keeping the boundaries of the autonomous area vague and murky, however, Israel can also hide its long-term intentions. It has made clear that settlements would remain under Israeli control. Israel has slowed down building, but the only settlements the government has agreed to freeze so far are about 6,000 which are on the plans. A further 11,000 homes which have been started will be finished, which means if these houses are filled, the Jewish population of the occupied territories will be increased in about a year by a further 50,000 people.

The music of peace has changed since Mr Rabin came to power, even if this has yet to be proven by changes on the ground. Despite the limited slow-down on settlements, it is accepted that the government has tried to turn public opinion against Likud-style settlement expansion. There have also been other practical signs of Mr Rabin's more conciliatory approach. He has signalled he is prepared to ease some human rights restrictions and may lift some deportation orders soon. Israeli officials argue that they cannot move faster than they have for fear of a right- wing backlash. Nevertheless, the price they will demand for autonomy is a high one for the Palestinians to pay.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
tennisLive: Follow all the updates from Melbourne as Murray faces Czech Tomas Berdych in the semi-final
Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
Arts and Entertainment
Henry VIII played by Damien Lewis
tvReview: Scheming queens-in-waiting, tangled lines of succession and men of lowly birth rising to power – sound familiar?
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is applying to trademark song lyrics from 1989
musicYou'll have to ask Taylor Swift first
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
Joel Grey, now 82, won several awards for his role in Cabaret
people
Sport
Harry Kane celebrates scoring the opening goal for Spurs
footballLive: All the latest transfer news as deadline day looms
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: SQL DBA (SSIS, ETL) - London, £60k

£60000 per annum: Ashdown Group: SQL DBA (SSIS, ETL) - Central London, £60,000...

Recruitment Genius: Compliance Assistant

£13000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Pension Specialist was established ...

Recruitment Genius: Service Agent / QA Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join an est...

Recruitment Genius: C# / XAML Developer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity for a talented...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness