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November 18, 2002

New Mideast peace draft addresses key Palestinian concerns

More tilting at windmills
JERUSALEM -- The latest version of a plan to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict answers some key Palestinian concerns and shows that the peace process remains under negotiation despite Mideast violence and the sudden Israeli election campaign.

The draft, obtained by The Associated Press, plays down a call in the original document to name a prime minister to take over many of the duties of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

The effort to reduce Arafat's power, backed by President Bush and Israel, has provoked anger among many Palestinians, who note that Arafat is their elected leader.

The peace plan remains under discussion, and a final version is expected later this month. It calls for creating a Palestinian state next to Israel within three years.

The draft emphasizes the need for support for an agreement from Arab states and leaves open the possibility that the process could be accelerated if the sides to the conflict make progress.

Changes to the document are mostly in nuance but they do give the Palestinian leadership more room to maneuver in negotiations, said a diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Another diplomat described the peace plan as a work in progress, likely to undergo further change before the final draft is presented in mid-December to the quartet of Middle East negotiators: the United States, the United Nations, Russia and the European Union.

An adviser to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said Friday that Israel would not be able to give a formal response to the initiative until after the Jan. 28 elections and the installation of a new government, a process that could take at least a month after the voting.