Israel would be allowed to continue attacks on Palestinian presidential buildings, security headquarters and prisons as part of a Middle East "ceasefire" plan proposed by US envoy General Anthony Zinni, it emerged yesterday.
Furious Palestinian negotiators have released a copy of the document, presented by Gen Zinni on March 26, the day before Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat had been due to attend the Arab summit in Beirut.
The proposal uses unconditional language requiring the PA 'to cease' [violent] activities, whereas the Israelis ... are only asked to 'commit to cease'..
Israel treated the document as an ultimatum, demanding Mr Arafat sign it as a condition of being allowed to attend the summit, but he refused.
Gen Zinni submitted a first draft of his plan on March 25 for both sides to comment, and came back 24 hours later with a new draft - called a "bridging proposal" at the time - which was much more favourable towards the Israelis.
One main Palestinian objection is that the plan tries to satisfy Israel's immediate security demands without pledging any political follow-up leading to peace talks.
Both drafts ignore what the Mitchell report - commissioned by President Bill Clinton and published last May - recognised as a key problem: "That security cooperation cannot long be sustained if meaningful negotiations are unreasonably deferred."
Mitchell's proposed solution was to follow a ceasefire with confidence-building measures - including a freeze on Jewish settlement activity in the occupied territories - and a resumption of peace talks.
Since the report, one of the main goals of the Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon, has been to avoid being manoeuvred into the confidence-building stage because of the political difficulties a freeze on settlements would cause him.
Gen Zinni's stated aim in talks last week was to find a mechanism to implement an earlier ceasefire plan put forward by CIA director George Tenet and accepted by both sides last June. But Palestinian negotiators accuse him of backtracking on the Tenet plan and rewriting parts of it.
Gen Zinni dropped the Tenet requirement that Israel should not attack "innocent civilian targets". In Gen Zinni's first draft, Israel would "commit" to cease "proactive" operations in areas under Palestinian Authority control, "including attacks on PA security forces or institutions".
His revised version would permit Israeli attacks on PA buildings, including prisons, "in self-defence to an imminent terrorist attack".
In a commentary sent to the Guardian, the Palestinian negotiators say: "It is impossible to imagine a scenario in which bombing a prison or the president's compound would be 'self-defence' ... this, in effect, justifies all the so-called 'retaliatory' attacks the Israelis have conducted so far."
The negotiators, who included two Palestinian security chiefs, Mohammed Dahlan and Jibril Rajoub, also said that: "The proposal uses unconditional language requiring the PA 'to cease' [violent] activities, whereas the Israelis ... are only asked to 'commit to cease'."
© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2002