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Palestinians Rejoin Private Peace Accord Following Arafat Approval - 2003-11-30

Senior Palestinian officials have agreed at the last minute to attend a high-profile launch in Switzerland Monday of a private peace initiative. The officials reversed an earlier decision to withdraw from the event, following the personal intervention of Palestinian President Yasser Arafat.

Four prominent Palestinians who negotiated draft, unofficial peace accords with their Israeli counterparts, now say they will attend the formal launch Monday in Geneva.

The negotiators, three Palestinian Cabinet ministers and one Palestinian legislator, only agreed to travel to the event after receiving the blessing of Mr. Arafat.

The Palestinian negotiators had earlier said they were pulling out, after being threatened by Palestinian militants opposed to the unofficial document, known as the Geneva Accords.

Their announcement also followed an incident last week in which masked Palestinian gunmen opened fire on the house of former Palestinian Cabinet Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo, a key architect of the agreement.

One of the strongest points of contention is that, under the plan, Israel would have the right to determine how many Palestinian refugees are allowed to return to areas that are now part of the Jewish State.

Although not explicitly stated, observers say this would effectively mean that the Palestinians had agreed to give up the "right of return" for millions of Palestinian refugees, who lost their homes since the establishment of Israel in 1948.

In a further sign of opposition, about 200 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip attacked another group of Palestinian participants traveling Sunday to Geneva for the signing ceremony.

The angry demonstration was one of several held in Gaza in recent weeks that have raised doubts about the level of Palestinian public and official support for the document.

The Palestinian Islamic groups, Hamas and the Islamic Jihad, which frequently carry out suicide bombings and other terror attacks, have also denounced the initiative.

Both organizations oppose a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and call for the destruction of Israel.

From the Israeli side, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has stated his opposition to the plan, saying that only his government has the right to negotiate on behalf of the Jewish state.

The chief Israeli architect of the accords is Yossi Beilin, a former Israeli Cabinet minister.

He says it was necessary to provide a model for peace-making, because Mr. Sharon's government has no intention of reaching a negotiated settlement of the conflict with the Palestinians.