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Next month crucial in peace negotiations, Palestinian says

STANFORD --The next month will be crucial in the Arab - Israeli Mideast peace talks, Hanan Mikhail-Ashrawi, spokeswoman for the Palestinian delegation, told a Hoover Institution audience Monday, Nov. 2.

"Everybody is running out of time. The peace process is losing its credibility," said the English professor and founder of the Birzeit University Human Rights Action Project.

Although she declined to speculate about the effect of a new American president on the negotiations, Mikhail-Ashrawi acknowledged that "ultimately this is an American process" and that domestic concerns would be a U.S. priority after the elections.

"So, we must have something concrete by December," she said. "If agreement is not reached soon, hope will give way to despair, and a new surge of violence will occur."

Over the past year, she said, negotiators at the talks often have been bogged down by procedural matters and technicalities, and particularly, she said, by Israeli insistence that the United Nations not be involved.

Even after the defeat of the hard-line Likud party in Israeli elections, she said, "we were among the few who were not carried away with optimism."

The new Israeli Labor government's proposals still reflect the Likud platform, she said.

"They still have not admitted that the West Bank is occupied territory," Mikhail-Ashrawi said, and she called Israeli promises to release 800 political prisoners "a cruel hoax . . . more public relations exercises than real changes."

Most damaging, she said, is Israel's insistence on granting limited autonomy, but not land, to Palestinians in the West Bank.

"We say there must be a territorial dimension," Mikhail- Ashrawi said. "If you build up blocks in a vacuum, an unstable structure will emerge."

"But I don't want to give a gloomy picture," she said. "At least we have begun."



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