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Wednesday, 13 February, 2002, 13:30 GMT
The Peres peace plan
Israeli tank in Beit Hanoun in Gaza
Israeli incursions in Palestinian areas occur almost daily
By BBC News Online's Tarik Kafala

Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres has floated another peace initiative aimed at securing a deal with the Palestinians.

The new plan has been worked out over weeks of talks with Ahmed Qureia (also known as Abu Ala), the speaker of the Palestinian parliament.

It's not clear what form the plan takes - a signed letter of understanding, a road map for negotiations or an idea that is just being floated.

Initial reaction to the plan has not been good. The Israeli Prime Minister, Arial Sharon, has already rejected it.

State before agreement

During the years of formal talks launched by the Oslo peace process, the principle was to negotiate away all the main differences and end with the declaration of a Palestinian state.

Israeli FM Shimon Peres
  • Step 1: Ceasefire
  • Step 2: Palestinian state declared on land currently controlled by the Palestinian Authority
  • Step 3: Talks for one year on final borders and other issues, followed by one year to implement

    Mid-East timeline

  • The Peres plan reverses this.

    Its starting point is the declaration of a Palestinian state and then, over two years, negotiations on final borders and the implementation of the agreement.

    According to Mr Peres, the Palestinian state would initially be on land currently under the control of the Palestinian Authority (PA).

    The plan makes no mention of Jerusalem or Israeli settlements - possibly the most contentious issues.

    Ceasefire first

    The plan envisages a ceasefire as a starting point, something that has not been achieved in 16 months of violence.

    Israeli PM Areil Sharon
    Sharon has rejected the latest peace plan
    But the proposal does not seem to reflect the fact that the Israeli army is currently camped in large areas of Palestinian Authority land, including city centres.

    Israeli army incursions into Palestinian areas have become an almost daily occurrence and the PA is regularly targeted by Israeli rocket attacks.

    Nor does the plan reflect the escalating conflict between the Israeli army and Palestinian militant groups who are becoming increasingly well-armed.

    Palestinians are demanding all, or nearly all, the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem for the Palestinian state.

    On the question of borders, Mr Peres told Israeli Radio that his plan proposed "1967 borders, plus changes, plus a land swap".

    The idea of land swaps has been raised before. It is intended to allow Israel to hold onto some settlements. In return, Israel is meant to give up some land inside Israel to the proposed Palestinian state.

    Sharon dismissive

    Ariel Sharon and Defence Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer (who is also the leader of the Israeli Labour party) have dismissed the plan.

    Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat
    Yasser Arafat has not publicly backed the plan
    Mr Sharon is fundamentally opposed to territorial concessions that would include the abandoning of the nearly 150 Israeli settlements in Gaza and the West Bank.

    On a recent visit to Washington, Mr Sharon said that he had in principle accepted the possibility of a Palestinian state, but achieving peace could take years, even a generation.

    Mr Ben-Eliezer has been talking about taking more Palestinian land rather than withdrawal or a ceasefire.

    The defence minister has warned that the army may set up a buffer zone in the West Bank and Gaza.

    Several other politicians and commentators have poured scorn on the Peres plan and there is no indication that Mr Peres can count on much support in the Israeli parliament.

    Arafat's backing?

    Mr Quriea says he is talking to Mr Peres with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's approval.

    However, Mr Arafat has made no public statement backing the plan or any of its details.

    The militant Palestinian groups, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and many of Mr Arafat's own people within his Fatah organisation are unlikely to back the plan.

    Hamas in particular appear to be seeking to escalate their confrontation with the Israeli army with the development and firing of the Qassam-2 missile.

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