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Palestinians, Israelis To Release Joint Peace Initiatives

While the world’s attention is focused on President Bush’s “road map” to peace, high-level groups of Israeli and Palestinian activists are crafting a brace of independent initiatives, several of which are due to be published soon. The initiatives, which spell out the nature of a final agreement in greater detail than the road map, are described by authors as complementary to the American-backed plan.

The most advanced initiative is a comprehensive final-status document being drafted by a group of Israeli former officials led by a onetime negotiator and justice minister, Yossi Beilin, and a former military chief of staff, Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, together with a team of Palestinians led by the information minister of the Palestinian Authority, Yasser Abed Rabbo.

The nearly completed document deals with Jerusalem, borders and refugees — thorny issues that have been left for negotiations during the last of the three stages envisioned by the road map.

The premise of the document, which will run between 30 and 50 pages in its final version, is the idea that “God, rather than the devil, is in the details,” according to Beilin aide Uri Zaki. It is based on the so-called Clinton parameters offered by the former American president just before his departure in January 2001.

The planners intend to mail it to every home in Israel.

“Once people see precisely what solutions are possible for the final-status issues, it will be easier to debate them and eventually to accept them,” Zaki told the Forward.

Beilin crafted a peace initiative in 1995 with Abu Mazen, who was recently appointed Palestinian prime minister. That document served as a basis for negotiation at the failed Camp David summit in 2000.

Beilin and Abed Rabbo, who were key negotiators in the last round of peace talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians in January 2001, started working on a final-status draft after the fall of the Barak government a month later. Discussions were held at various locations in Israel, South Africa and Great Britain. On the Israeli side, the promoters underline that it is not the work of naive peace activists, but of senior security officials such as Lipkin-Shahak and other former Israeli generals including Gideon Shefer and Giora Inbar. Those involved on the Palestinian side include mainly P.A. officials and intellectuals such as political scientist Khalil Shikaki.

Ron Pundak, head of the Peres Center for Peace and a former Israeli negotiator who has been loosely associated with the project, said the document is the “closest thing to a final draft status he had ever seen.”

A Palestinian official who has seen a draft of the document made similar comments.

Final agreement on the document has been delayed by the restrictions on the movement of Palestinians, as well as such events as the Israeli elections, the nomination of Abu Mazen and the war in Iraq. Participants in the process say the remaining differences are not significant and will quickly be resolved.

A separate initiative is being led by Sari Nusseibeh, the Palestine Liberation Organization representative in Jerusalem, and Ami Ayalon, a former chief of Israel’s Shin Bet security service. It is not a comprehensive document delving into specifics, but rather a two-page declaration of general principles that is intended to serve as a petition. The promoters of the initiative are hoping to gather 1 million signatures on both sides.

In recent weeks, advertisements appearing in Palestinian newspapers under Nusseibeh’s name said Bush’s road map would only result in interim agreements for the Palestinians, Israel Radio reported.

Zaki, the Beilin aide, stressed that the Beilin-Abed Rabbo document could be a useful complement to the road map. Nonetheless, he acknowledged that in his group’s view, the incremental approach embodied in both the road map and the Oslo accords was not the best one and that it would be better to start final-status talks directly.

One person who still believes in interim agreements — albeit improved ones — is the former American ambassador to Israel, Martin Indyk. In a recent address to the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, Indyk said such agreements should take into account mistakes of the Oslo process — notably the failure to hold the P.A. accountable for violence and incitement.

Still, Indyk believes the road map will fail because the P.A. will not be able to guarantee security. Instead, he is advocating what amounts to a third plan: putting the Palestinian territories in an American-led trusteeship that would entail an American military presence on the ground.

Palestinian officials said the issue of international intervention, be it based on the Indyk model or on other options implying a more forceful foreign presence, was currently being discussed informally between peace-minded Israelis and Palestinians.

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