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U.S. offers new strategy to spur Mideast talks


WASHINGTON -- In its boldest intervention in 20 months of Mideast peace negotiations, the United States has suggested that the Israelis and the Palestinians move away from discussions of territorial jurisdiction in the occupied territories and instead focus on government functions the Palestinians could control, including health, education and police activities.

Openly admitting that direct negotiations in Washington are insufficient to make progress toward peace, the State Department also announced yesterday that Washington will send senior delegations to the region to try to persuade political leaders there to break the deadlock.

The U.S. shift in strategy is aimed at ending the current round of talks on a positive note and creating momentum.

"We're sharing ideas with them in writing," said Michael McCurry, the State Department spokesman. "This clearly will help stimulate and move the discussions forward as we look ahead to coming weeks."

The paper the United States presented yesterday, which includes a number of the administration's ideas, is different from a document presented this spring to the Israelis and Palestinians during the previous round of talks. That earlier proposal was an effort to put down on paper areas of common ground between the two sides, rather than to introduce new ideas.

The U.S. negotiators are trying to approach the problem by identifying the functions of government the Palestinians would control.

The document also allows for discussion of the final status of Jerusalem, which has been the key demand of the Palestinians, but only when negotiations about the permanent status of the occupied territories begin, the officials added.

Playing down the importance of the U.S. initiative, the Palestinian spokeswoman, Hanan Ashrawi, cautioned that her team would reject any proposal that did not include a discussion of Arab East Jerusalem.

The U.S. push to breathe life into the negotiations has been matched by the Israelis. During this round of talks, the Israelis offered the Palestinians what they called "early empowerment" in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, but not in East Jerusalem.

This would give the Palestinians control almost immediately over police, health, education and other functions. Thus far, the Palestinians have rejected the offer, insisting that jurisdiction over Jerusalem be included in the discussions.

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