JERUSALEM — Compromises are slowly emerging in negotiations between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization on plans for Palestinian self-government, but a full agreement may be a week or more away, Israeli officials said Monday.
Teams from both sides will meet this evening in Paris in a further attempt to resolve the outstanding issues, although well-placed Israeli officials predicted "further progress but not the ultimate breakthrough" during those talks.
"We would like nothing more than for it to be over fast and clean, a neat agreement," a senior Israeli official said. "Unfortunately, it appears that it will be slow, messy and even inconclusive in many respects. Still, we must proceed--there is no going back."
The impasse, described as the most difficult since the two sides began talking privately but seriously nearly a year ago, continues to hinge on control--Israeli, Palestinian or joint--of the borders for the autonomous Palestinian region in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, officials said.
Other crucial issues involve the size of the Jericho district on the West Bank and on security measures to protect Jewish settlers, especially in the Gaza Strip.
Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, acknowledging his own concern that the hard-won agreement on Palestinian autonomy could fail over the problems of its implementation, expressed confidence Monday evening that "we will overcome our difficulties."
Peres, who leads the Israeli negotiating team, said in a television interview that "we have nowhere to go back to. And what are the Palestinians going to do? On the main subjects, we have a signed agreement in principle. . . . Both sides believe an (implementing) agreement can be reached."
He said that "interesting proposals were presented on both sides" during weekend talks in Norway and would be explored further today, but he declined to give details.
But other Israeli officials said that Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin is willing to increase the size of the Jericho district considerably, meeting a demand of PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat--as long as it does not include any of the strategically sensitive Jordan Valley.
Another compromise was possible on measures, including joint Israeli-Palestinian police patrols, to protect the 5,000 Jewish settlers in the Gaza Strip, they said.
What remained difficult, these officials said, was control of the borders between the Gaza Strip and Egypt and the Jericho district and Jordan. For Israel, it is both a question of security and an issue of sovereignty.
"Arafat wants something that says to everyone, 'State of Palestine,' and control of the borders is it," an Israeli official said. "Security questions aside, and they are really paramount, we cannot give him this precisely for that reason. On this, Rabin is adamant."
Another Israeli official suggested that Rabin, believing that his tougher approach over the last week has consolidated support among Israelis for the agreement, will now be willing to reach for a compromise on even this question.
Yossi Sarid, Israel's dovish but security-conscious environment minister from the leftist Meretz Party, said after he returned from accompanying Peres to the weekend negotiations in Norway that there had been tangible progress in the two days of frank exchanges.
"There has definitely been progress, but the extent can be judged only when the two sides resume their talks," Sarid said.
And Deputy Norwegian Foreign Minister Jan Egeland, who hosted the 24 hours of talks in a mansion in southeast Norway, said Monday that the two sides are well along in resolving those differences. "We hope and believe they can agree in a few days on a final accord," Egeland said.
The PLO understood as well as the Israelis did, Sarid continued, that "every delay and any setback . . . only complicates matters and produces more and more difficulties."
The first step in implementing the basic accord, an Israeli troop pullback in Gaza and Jericho, was postponed indefinitely after Rabin and Arafat failed to resolve their differences at a meeting last week in Cairo. A second Rabin-Arafat meeting, planned for Thursday, has faded into the future.
But Peres said: "The fact there are still (negotiations in Norway) proves the two sides are making a supreme effort to overcome the difficulties. . . . The problems are plain, and we are trying to find ways to overcome them without giving up on principles."
Arafat, however, accused Israel of failing to comply with the basic accord, signed in September, that laid the foundation for limited Palestinian self-government.
"The negotiations are going through difficult times because of Israel's delaying tactics," Arafat told the Palestinian news agency.