NEW signs of unusual flexibility on the part of Palestinian
leaders, as they prepare for renewed Middle East peace
negotiations, have raised hopes here that an agreement with Israel
might prove easier than expected. But their apparent pragmatism has
prompted fears among many Palestinians that such an agreement might
not satisfy their aspirations to statehood and would increase
violent conflict among them.
These fears are heightened by the Palestinian Liberation
Organization's new readiness to accept American advice to agree
with Israel on small, practical steps toward Palestinian autonomy,
rather than insisting on Israel's acceptance of broad concepts.
Meanwhile, strategists from the PLO and the delegates who will
resume talks with Israel in Washington on Aug. 24 are still divided
over the top issue on Israel's agenda: how to hold elections in the
Officials from PLO headquarters in Tunis and delegation members
from the occupied territories ended a meeting here this week by
agreeing on a range of scenarios for the coming talks, but say they
will withhold any initiative until they hear from Israeli Prime
Minister Yitzhak Rabin.
"We are waiting for Mr. Rabin to see what is new in his pocket
that would help make progress in the peace process," says Suleiman
Najab, one of 15 members of the PLO Executive Committee.
Many Palestinian leaders and analysts here suggest that in the
continuing peace talks that the United States envisages, at least a
framework for an agreement with Israel might emerge as soon as the
end of October. Such progress would clearly suit President Bush,
who is seeking a foreign-policy success before the US election in
November. The prospects for rapid movement are heightened by the
Palestinians' apparent readiness to accept conditions they have
While negotiators still insist they will not sign any agreement
without a halt to all Israeli settlement of the occupied
territories, they are now willing to discuss the nature of an
autonomy arrangement without such a halt.
"We are not dogmatic," says PLO Executive Committee member Saleh
Raafat. "We are ready to discuss substantive issues."
At the same time, Palestinian planners are saying explicitly for
the first time that they would accept Israeli military
installations in the occupied territories during the five-year
interim period of autonomy. Some do not even rule out the
maintenance of such posts as part of a final settlement.
Such statements have led many Palestinians outside PLO chairman
Yasser Arafat's close circle of advisers to speculate that many
more concessions are likely, in light of Mr. Arafat's anxious
desire to reach an agreement with Israel, and Washington's
enthusiasm for a settlement. …