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Palestinian group takes reasonable route to peace

Despite the dismal forecasts for President Clinton's last-ditch efforts at Middle East peace, there was a constructive but little-noted move toward resolution of the conflict recently. Soon after New Year's the Palestinian Negotiating Team responded in a detailed letter to Clinton's most recent proposal.

Though the full text was not carried in the major U.S. newspapers, it is readily available online at In the text, the Negotiating Team reaffirms its commitment to "a peaceful resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict," and calls for swift movement toward that aim. "In view of the tremendous cost caused by each delay in negotiations we recognize the need to resolve this conflict as soon as possible," the letter reads.


They stress the need to "ensure that the future relations between the two peoples will be mutually beneficial" and provide a rich array of details on the logistics of territorial divisions and refugees. The authors give a measured critique of the American plan's ambiguity on these key issues, reasoning that "a general, vague agreement . . . will be counter-productive."

At a time when radicals on both sides dominate the news from the region, the Negotiating Team's letter indicates that forward-thinking political solutions can still bridge the gaps between the Israeli and Palestinian communities. The methodical and pragmatic language of the Palestinian letter weakens claims among some that cultural or religious differences make peace impossible.

On the contrary, even after tremendous setbacks for peace talks, the Palestinian team has offered an empirical clarification of needs and responsibilities for ending the violence. To salvage and rebuild "final status negotiations," both parties must shift from broad rhetoric to practical details. The Palestinian Negotiating Team's letter can move talks into that crucial phase if Israel communicates its concerns with similar transparency and precision.

The preferred path for peace among most Israelis and Palestinians is a two-state agreement yielding Israel and a distinct Palestinian state. The negotiators' letter works toward this mutually accepted broad goal by carefully considering the political foundations of a workable bi-state solution. Seeking a lasting two-state peace, the Negotiating Team raises several concerns with Clinton's newest proposal. Reading the remarks, one quickly sees that the process revolves more around maps and development plans than intractable cultural clashes.

The questions are neither dramatic nor hostile, but focused and practical: What will guarantee Palestinians the freedom to move about their own state? How will parity of land quality be ensured during territorial "swaps" between the Palestinian state and Israel? How can Palestinians exercise their right of return while also addressing Israeli concerns?

These specific inquiries and the body of the text depart sharply from the rhetorical volleys that both sides' leaders have recently exchanged. By choosing policy issues over polemics, members of the Palestinian Negotiating Team have publicly engaged the details and pragmatic challenges of a peace plan, communicating their concerns and long-term hopes. Their forthright communication sets a promising tone for further negotiations and merits a productive reply.


Reciprocating the Palestinians' efforts can only further Israel's quest for peace. Though Likud leader Ariel Sharon remains likely to win next month's prime ministerial elections, Israel's beleaguered but resilient peace movement can use the negotiating letter to lobby the government to publicly answer the Palestinians' questions.

Such a response could address the Palestinian Negotiating Team's sophisticated text while clarifying Israel's thoughts on a range of issues from the territory of a Palestinian state to the refugees' right of return. By conscientiously addressing the Palestinian Negotiating Team's work, the Israeli government will fortify support for the pro-peace camps of both Israel and the Palestinian National Authority while elevating the quality of potential negotiations.

Contrary to claims that Israeli-Palestinian differences cannot be reconciled or can be done so only through force, the Palestinian Negotiating Team has articulated the specific logistical problems that the current U.S. proposal poses for a healthy and vibrant Palestinian state. They have asked a series of crucial questions that favor empirical substance over vague assertions.

A detailed reply from Israel, if given, will further clarify points of disagreement and commonality. If sustained, such an exchange would hold the promise of reducing violence, rebuilding the peace process and crafting a shared vision for two separate, secure and self-determining states.

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That resolution, however, will depend upon a mutual rejection of short-term political rhetoric in favor of disciplined dialogue on long-term details — an arduous task that the Palestinian Negotiating Team has approached with candor and precision. Jason Brownlee is a politics graduate student from Raleigh, N.C. He can be reached at