On January 14, in the second round of direct talks between Palestinian and Israeli negotiators in Washington, DC, the Palestinian side presented a draft outline of a Palestinian Interim Self-Government Authority (PISGA). Media accounts of the talks barely noted this unprecedented development, but this is one document that should not be allowed to waft down the memory hole of the New York Times and its confederates. The plan unambiguously sets out a trajectory toward an independent state, and commits the Palestinians, including the PLO, to the concept of an interim arrangement, making explicit what was implicit in their acceptance of the invitation to the Madrid talks. And it establishes a mechanism to produce a political leadership in the Occupied Territories whose legitimacy is clearly based in an electoral expression of popular sovereignty.
The stated purpose of the two-page document is “to ensure the peaceful and orderly transfer of authority from Israel to [the] PISGA, and to create the proper conditions for sustainable negotiations on the final status” of the Occupied Territories. This echoes the language of the US Letter of Assurances given to the Palestinians prior to the Madrid talks.
The Self-Government Authority would comprise an elected 180-member Legislative Assembly and an independent judiciary. The Assembly would elect a chairperson, who would nominate a 20-person Executive Council subject to confirmation by the Assembly. These elections should be internationally supervised, electors should include “Palestinians from the West Bank including Jerusalem, and Gaza, as well as persons displaced since 1967 and deportees”; political detainees should be freed to participate, and all restrictions on assembly and movement should be “rescinded to enable these elections to proceed in an orderly and democratic manner.”
The plan envisages jurisdiction over “all the Palestinian territories occupied since June 1967,” encompassing “the land, natural resources and water, the subsoil, and their territorial sea and air space,” and “all the Palestinian inhabitants of these territories.” It calls for the transfer to the Self-Government Authority of “all the powers, responsibilities and jurisdiction which are exercised by any Israeli military or civilian authority, or any agency acting for or on behalf of the Israeli government.”
The document proposes Israeli military withdrawal “from all populated areas immediately before the PISGA election process is intiated,” followed by withdrawal to the borders of the occupied territories in phases linked to the transfer of responsibilities to the Self-Government Authority. (The plan’s introduction states that it is a proposed basis for negotiations after “the total cessation of all settlement activities.”) This transitional period presumes a UN peacekeeping force “to assure internal and external security and public order,” to be followed by a “strong local Palestinian law enforcement force” under the Self-Government Authority.
The outline presented in Washington has its origins in a longer document drafted in Cairo in December by Palestinian delegates, advisers and PLO officials. This longer document took as its starting point an Egyptian working paper spelling out Cairo’s interpretation of the autonomy provisions of the Camp David Accords. All the Palestinian participants endorsed this longer document.
The delegation to the talks in Washington took the initiative to draft and present the outline. In the course of negotiating and modifying the wording of the outline, further refinements were made in the Palestinians’ conception of the Self-Government Authority, according to participants. One Palestinian adviser to the delegation described the outline as “authoritative” in the sense of fully representing the views of the delegation and the PLO in Tunis.
The decision to compose the draft and to push hard for its authorization reflects the determination of the Palestinians not to allow the Shamir government to bog the negotiations down in procedural wrangling. The issue of elections, as an element of Palestinian political reform, has been extensively debated in the Palestinian press for much of 1991. The PLO agreed to this initiative knowing that, if implemented, it will surely increase the weight of the inhabitants of the West Bank and Gaza in Palestinian politics.
Secretary of State James Baker’s timetable calls for the parties to reach an interim arrangement within a year of the opening conference in Madrid — i.e., by the end of October. The PISGA proposal, the only one on the table, commits the Palestinians, including the PLO, to a reasonable vision of mutual recognition and self-determination. When the talks reconvene, there will be an opportunity to end the silence that has greeted this important initiative.