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Israeli foreign minister offers plan for Palestinian state

Wednesday, February 13, 2002

JERUSALEM -- Foreign Minister Shimon Peres outlined a peace plan Tuesday negotiated with a senior Palestinian lawmaker that calls for a cease-fire followed quickly by the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Long on optimism but short on supporters, the plan was reached between Peres and Palestinian parliament speaker Ahmed Qureia, known as Abu Ala, over several months of unannounced meetings in which they strove to move beyond the daily violence and heated rhetoric.

Meanwhile, Palestinians fired two Qassam-2 rockets at a Jewish settlement in the West Bank on Tuesday, but missed, said a senior Israeli security source, speaking on condition of anonymity. It would be the first such firing in the West Bank.

Israel's Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer warned Tuesday that he might send troops to retake some Palestinian areas for extended periods if Palestinian militants fire more Qassam-2 rockets, a new, longer-range model that can reach some Israeli population centers from the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Two rockets fired by the Islamic militant group Hamas from Gaza landed Sunday in open fields in southern Israel, causing no injuries. Israel responded with airstrikes in Gaza City Sunday and Monday.

"The Qassam is something that crosses all our red lines" because of its range, Ben-Eliezer told reporters during a tour of northern Israel.

Tension is rising between Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and West Bank security chief Jibril Rajoub, said a Palestinian official. He said the two had a heated disagreement when Arafat accused Rajoub of failing to prevent the release of militants from Palestinian prisons.

Marwan Barghouti, West Bank leader of Arafat's Fatah movement, told Israel TV that the conflict with Israel must be ended. "There has to be a political plan that gives real hope to the Palestinian people," he said.

In their peace efforts, Peres and Qureia appeared to have reached broad agreement on several important points, but it remained far from clear how much support their plan would generate among Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

Peres suggested the plan was also backed by Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. "There is a proposal, which is acceptable to Abu Ala and his senders," Peres said on Israel radio, adding that he has shown the plan to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and expects his comments.

Peres may face a tough battle persuading Sharon, who has shot down several of his initiatives. Other members of Sharon's coalition government -- including members of Peres' own Labor Party -- also are skeptical.

Qureia endorsed the plan Monday, although he gave few details and the Palestinian Authority has been vague about its position.

The proposal has been discussed in the media for weeks, but the two negotiators have mostly kept mum. In his first detailed description, Peres said it contains three stages, beginning with a cease-fire -- a goal which has proven difficult over the 16 months of bloodshed.

Shortly after a cease-fire is achieved, the plan envisions a mutual recognition of Israeli and Palestinian states.

"We will recognize a Palestinian state, they will recognize the state of Israel," Peres told Israel Radio.

The two sides would then have one year to negotiate final borders and other terms for the Palestinian state, and another year to implement any agreement.

During a White House visit last week, Sharon said he accepted Palestinian statehood in principle, but has cautioned the road to peace is likely to last years, or even a generation.

Peres said the new Palestinian state would initially be on territory already ruled by the Palestinian Authority -- about two-thirds of the Gaza Strip and 40 percent of the West Bank.


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