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Publisher\Editor Don Canaan

                      March 8, 1995, V3, #45
All the News the Big Guys Missed

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Palestinian 1967 Refugees May Return to West Bank and Gaza

By Al Pessin (Amman)

Senior Israeli and Palestinian officials came out of nine hours of meetings in Amman Tuesday with sharply different views of the issue they came to discuss -- the future of Palestinians displaced by the 1967 Middle East war. But they did agree, along with the Jordanian and Egyptian foreign ministers, to pursue what they call a "speedy solution" to the issue.

Officials say the meeting was tense at times, with the Israeli and Palestinian representatives clashing over a Palestinian request for the immediate return of at least some people as a good will gesture. Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres says he refused because this first meeting on the subject was only designed to establish the mechanism for deciding on substantive issues in the future.

That mechanism is contained in a brief joint communique, which calls for a committee of experts to work on the issue, starting within one month, and for the foreign ministers to meet on the issue periodically.

The Palestinian representative, Nabil Shaath, says there are many good elements in the communique, but he complained that it lacks any firm promises on when the displaced people will begin to return to the West Bank and Gaza.

"Somehow, our people have heard a lot of statements and a lot of decisions and a lot of communiques, I think the test now is implementation, the test now is the speedy solution of the problem at hand, because that is what will enhance the peace process."

Peres says the desire to move quickly on this issue is complicated by a variety of other issues which are closely related to it.

"It's not just a problem of displaced persons, it's a problem of security, it's a problem of absorption, it's a problem of economy. We don't know how many are they, where are they, what are their wishes, what are their preferences, what are the possibilities? And you can not ask one question, when you have many of them."

The two men also did not agree on whether the displaced Palestinians have a right to return to the West Bank and Gaza. Shaath says the right is not questioned and is implicit in several agreements Israel has signed. Peres says rights have not been agreed to or even discussed, but some people will be allowed to return. In spite of that disagreement, the two men agree they need to work out the method for people to return.

These talks cover only about one-third of all Palestinian refugees -- those who left the West Bank and Gaza when Israel captured them in 1967, and their families. Estimates range from 600,000 to 1 million people. Israel is concerned that such a large influx of people, if not managed properly, would lead to disorder. In any case, officials say any large-scale return of refugees will come only after Palestinian autonomy is expanded on the West Bank, and talks on that issue are stalled.

Children's Theater in Haifa to Include Palestinian Actors

The Fifth Children's Theater Festival, held in Haifa, will be held in mid-April and last four days. Eleven new plays have been chosen for production under the sponsorship of the Festival's management. Six of them will compete for the first prize, worth 10,000 Israeli shekels.

Yediot Aharonot' reports the Palestinian 'Al Kasbah' acting troupe from East Jerusalem will participate in the Festival. It will present a play in Arabic. All participating groups are being subsidized up to 30,000 shekels including one company from abroad, the 'Black Theater' of Prague, which will present 'Peter Pan.' Another Arabic group, 'Ashtar' from Ramallah in the West Bank will also participate. The Festival will also host street productions, with five plays competing for a 7,000-shekel prize.

Water Desalination Possibilities by the Year 2000

The national water authority, Mekorot, reports that it has prepared a five-year plan to desalinate seawater for Israel, reaching an annual volume of 110 million cubic meters by the year 2000. New installations costing $200-million will be built by then. Mekorot is submitting the plan to the government for approval.

Dr. Pinhas Glikstein, head of the desalination unit, says years of research and development have brought the unit price down (using the reverse osmosis method for seawater) to about 60 cents per cubic meter instead of today's cost of $1. Desalinating brackish water can be done now at 30 cents a cubic meter.

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