Israeli and Palestinian officials deny secret agreement

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JERUSALEM — Israeli and Palestinian officials have denied a newspaper report that they secretly drew up a draft document resolving such major issues as the future of Jerusalem and the establishment of a Palestinian state.

The Israeli daily Ha'aretz reported this week that two architects of the self-rule accords, Israeli minister Yossi Beilin and Palestinian official Abu Mazen, drafted a secret agreement on final arrangements between Israel and the Palestinians.

The document, which was said to have been completed three days before the Nov. 4 assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, reportedly included maps of borders and stated that an independent Palestinian state would be formed without uprooting Jewish settlements and that Jerusalem would remain united under Israeli control.

The document on a permanent solution to the leading issues separating the two sides reportedly came in the wake of a series of meetings taking place over more than a year in Jerusalem and different sites in Europe.

The newspaper suggested that the permanent settlement, among other items, called for the establishment of a Palestinian state without an army.

The document also reportedly included the following arrangements: Jewish settlements would remain under Israeli sovereignty; Muslim holy places on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem's Old City would be declared an extraterritorial area administered by the Palestinians; and the Jordan Valley would be handed over to the Palestinians in the year 2007.

Prime Minister Shimon Peres, who earlier in the week denied that Israel was holding secret talks with the Palestinians regarding the future of Jerusalem, said Thursday of last week that there were no plans to dismantle Jewish settlements, including those in the Jordan Valley.

The same day, Beilin denied the existence of any such agreement with the Palestinians, on paper or otherwise. He told Israel Radio that he had no authority to reach an agreement.

But Beilin acknowledged he had met with Palestinian officials, adding, "Certainly the spirit of the things, at least on some of the subjects, is correct."

The Israeli coordinator of peace negotiations, Foreign Ministry Director General Uri Savir, also denied that there had been secret talks on the issues to be addressed in final-status negotiations, including Jerusalem, Jewish settlements and borders.

"The only negotiations that took place that were authorized on any of the Palestinian-Israeli issues were carried out by Mr. Abu Alaa [Ahmed Karia] and myself on the Interim Agreement," he told reporters Thursday, referring to the accord for expanding West Bank autonomy signed in September in Washington, D.C.

"Permanent-status negotiations will start as of May 4," Savir said. "Nothing that happened so far is in any way official or authorized."

Dr. Ahmed Tibi, an adviser to Palestinian Council President Yasser Arafat, said he spoke to Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) after seeing the Ha'aretz report.

He, too, denied that there was any draft document.

"No agreement was signed," he told Army Radio, adding that he and Abu Mazen believed that the report was linked to the Israeli national elections, scheduled for May 29.

The Likud opposition, in an opening salvo of the election campaign, charged earlier in the week that Peres would divide Jerusalem if he is re-elected.

According to the Ha'aretz report, Israeli intelligence officials were aware at an early stage of the contacts, which consisted of some 20 meetings over more than a year in Britain, Cyprus, the Nether-lands, Sweden and Jerusalem.

The report said both Peres and Arafat had expressed reservations after seeing the document.

The right-wing Likud Party latched onto the alleged document as proof that Peres could not be trusted.

"I believe his rejection is not a real rejection," Likud faction leader Moshe Katsav said of Peres' denials. "We are on the eve of elections and he is aware that by publishing this initiative, it has a very negative impact on the Israeli voters."

Interior Minister Haim Ramon said the whole matter was part of what he called the "Likud's collection of lies."