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Israel to Enter Peace Talks With Offer of Self-Rule for Palestinians : Mideast: Plan also calls for early election of government for West Bank and Gaza, Peres says.


JERUSALEM — Israel plans to offer the Palestinians wide-ranging self-government on the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip when the Arab-Israeli peace talks resume next week, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said Friday.

"In a far-reaching initiative, we are offering the Palestinians self-government that includes police, responsibility for health care, the postal service, commerce, agriculture--everything," Peres declared.

Israel will also propose early elections for a Palestinian legislative council whose leaders will complete the negotiations for autonomy for the West Bank and Gaza Strip and who will then govern the region, Peres told state-run Israel Radio.

With Israel's determination to press ahead on autonomy and show maximum flexibility in the negotiations, Peres asserted that "most of the disputed issues" in the long-stalled talks between Israel and the Palestinians should be resolved in the round of talks beginning April 27 in Washington.

"Not just to advance, but to advance quickly is a must," Peres said in one of half a dozen newspaper and radio interviews he gave to Israeli news media to launch the initiative. "We have decided really to try our best to reach an agreement."

Israel would retain responsibility for overall security and foreign affairs, Peres said in another interview, but is willing to narrow its demands in both areas to give the Palestinians broader authority.

"The price of peace is almost set," Peres told the Jerusalem Post. "So, we have to concentrate more on the nature of peace. That's where the real opportunities are."

Other elements in the new Israeli approach reportedly will include a broader definition of the territory that the Palestinian government will administer, greater legislative authority for the elected Palestinian council and a method to find compromises when Israeli and Palestinian authorities disagree on the division of powers between them, notably on security.

Israel also plans to announce a series of measures to ease life on the West Bank and Gaza Strip: a joint commission to monitor human rights, a program for family reunification, permission for 30 to 50 Palestinian political activists deported over the last 25 years to return and the accelerated return of suspected Islamic militants exiled to Lebanon in December.

Hanan Ashrawi, the spokeswoman of the Palestinian delegation, said the Palestinians, who anguished long and hard over returning to the talks while 396 of the men deported in December are still in exile in Lebanon, also regarded the coming round of talks as "decisive" and wanted to "see what's in this long-promised surprise package from Israel."

Noting that the United States has not proposed a time limit for the round, she said the Palestinians hope that this will lead to a resolve by everyone to pursue the talks to a conclusion.

Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin instructed Israeli negotiators to show greater flexibility in the negotiations, according to government sources quoted in several Israeli newspapers Friday, and to keep the talks going even at the cost of concessions to the Palestinians.

But Rabin remains adamant, well-placed Israeli sources said, that his country will not return to the open borders it had with the occupied Palestinian territories until he closed them in response to a wave of murderous attacks last month on Israelis.

Both the United States and Egypt are pressing Rabin to reopen the territories, arguing that the 120,000 Palestinians who worked each day in Israel need those jobs and that the overall economy of the territories has become integrated with that of Israel over a quarter of a century.

The border closure has not reduced violence in the territories. Israeli soldiers shot and killed a Palestinian man and wounded at least 46 other Palestinians on Friday in clashes in the occupied Gaza Strip, Palestinians said.

Four Palestinians have been killed and 200 wounded in clashes since Tuesday.

In an apparent break with Rabin, Peres called at a meeting of the ruling Labor Party on Thursday for an early reopening of the borders with the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

He also suggested that Israel will have to return all of the Golan Heights, which it formally annexed, in any peace treaty with Syria. Rabin continues to speak about only "a withdrawal on the Golan Heights," implying that Israel will retain a portion of it.

Rabin is at odds with Peres over some elements, notably the timing of elections, in the negotiations with the Palestinians, according to Israeli officials. Rabin aides appeared taken aback Friday at the extent of Peres' media blitz on behalf of the new Israeli initiative.

Peres' suggestion that the proposed Palestinian government would receive police powers under the autonomy accord drew an immediate protest from Israeli settlers on the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip. In informal discussions, Palestinians have proposed a 20,000-member force, the Israeli newspaper Hadashot said, while Peres suggested "a couple thousand."

"It is simply mad--to take all the men wanted for terror today and dress tomorrow in uniform!" said Benny Katzover, a leader in the settlement movement.

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