Israelis, Palestinians Meet in Jordan on Draft of Beilin-Abed Rabbo Peace Proposal

A group of Knesset members, including the Labor Party's Avraham Burg and Amram Mitzna, went yesterday into the last day of talks in Jordan with prominent Palestinian politicians. The talks are expected to result in the signing of a draft peace agreement prepared by former justice minister Yossi Beilin and former Palestinian information minister Yasser Abed Rabbo.

The Israeli delegation left Thursday evening for the three-day meet, which sought to reach compromises on thorny issues such as the return of Palestinian refugees, settlements, the borders of a future Palestinian state and the future status of Jerusalem.

The document was prepared over the course of a year by Beilin and Abed Rabbo, with the assistance of several professionals, and is intended to draft a permanent peace agreement to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat has given his blessing to the dialogue.

"High on the agenda will be working out a common ground on key issues listed as permanent settlement questions, including the status of Arab East Jerusalem, frontiers, Palestinian refugees and Jewish settlements," a senior Palestinian diplomat said Friday.

Labor MK Ephraim Sneh supported the dialogue between the Israelis and Palestinians, but criticized the level of details explored by the agreement.

"Any talks between Israel and the Palestinians, especially between senior officials, is welcome. But it is undesired to agree on issues that are overly detailed, that will become the starting point for the Palestinians in future negotiations," Sneh said Thursday.

Meretz MK Yossi Sarid told Israel Radio on Friday that he had participated in the discussions on the draft, but could not leave for Jordan to attend the signing ceremony for personal reasons. He would not give details on the contents of the agreement, but said that there was no intention of keeping the draft secret. He said that the Israeli and Palestinian "peace coalitions" have been meeting continuously.

"We believe in these meetings; we think that there is something to talk about and someone to talks too - perhaps today more than ever - and it is a shame that the government doesn't talk, and only shoots," Sarid said.

"These meetings were not conducted in an underground manner or in the dark," Sarid said, referring to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon accusations earlier this week that the Labor Party and the left were cooperating with the Palestinians "behind the government's back."

Sarid explained that the meetings had to be coordinated with the security establishment. "I don't understand why the prime minister was angered by the meeting near the Dead Sea. Perhaps Sharon was scared that a terrible secret would come out, that there is someone to talk too and a significant degree of goodwill on the part of the second party, and that this is a time in which calm, even relative calm can be achieved. We, unlike him, are not afraid."