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Publisher\Editor Don Canaan

                       Feb. 6, 1996 V4, #22
All the News the Big Guys Missed

A poll conducted by the Dahaf Institute found that 66 percent of Golan residents said they were prepared to relocate in return for compensation if a peace agreement with Syria requires Israeli territorial concessions. Nearly half of those polled would support a referendum on peace with Syria that required full withdrawal.

Christopher Flies to Damascus

By Ron Pemstein (VOA-Jerusalem)

Secretary of State Warren Christopher met with Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres yesterday before flying to Damascus today on his 17th Middle East peace mission. Israel's plans for an early election and its effects on negotiations with Syria were on the agenda.

No one can predict what will happen to the Israel-Syria negotiations if Israel decides to hold elections in May instead of October. In any case, Israel and the US have decided to put a brave face on the prospect by saying negotiations will continue throughout the campaign period.

Christopher says he is prepared to remain the principal mediator in the talks no matter what scenario is decided here. Next week, Peres is expected to announce an election date, probably in May.

However, he gave reporters a hint of his plans by saying he needs a mandate from the Israeli people to continue negotiations with Syria. Those negotiations have been taking place at a secluded conference center called Wye Plantation near Washington. Although no breakthroughs have been reported from those talks, Peres says serious discussions have started on normalization of relations between Israel and Syria as well as on economic relations. As for security arrangements following an Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights, Peres says discussion has begun.

Christopher says he is trying to determine whether the discussions should continue at the Wye Plantation or whether another formula should be found. Peres says negotiations will continue at Wye, or "somewhere else."

A lot will depend on the attitude of Syrian President Hafez al-Assad. Syria's government-controlled press turned negative after the second round of the Wye talks, blaming Israel for the setback. It is one thing for the US and Israel to say negotiations will continue despite the early election. It will be another thing for Syria to reach the same conclusion.

If Peres maintains his lead in opinion surveys, an election in May could strengthen his hand in making a deal with Syria. If his lead fades, and the right-wing Likud party takes power, Syria may conclude a peace treaty is not possible. Likud has pledged never to give up the Golan Heights, Syria's price for peace.

Likud and Tsomet Combine Lists; Tsomet will Back Netanyahu

Likud Chairman Benjamin Netanyahu and Tsomet Chairman Rafael Eitan have agreed to combine their lists of candidates for the upcoming Knesset elections, and that Eitan will give up his run for prime minister to accept the number two position behind Netanyahu.

Eitan said surveys commissioned by both parties show the public wants them to unite. A poll conducted by the Gallup Organization found a combined list would win more Knesset seats than if the two parties competed separately.

Former Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir said the decision was good news. "Members of the two parties will work with greater excitement now," he said. David Levy also praised the agreement, but said he would continue to run for prime minister.

PLO Exec Committee Meets in the Sinai

By Peyman Pejman (VOA-Cairo)

Top officials of the Palestine Liberation Organization met late Monday in Egypt to discuss, among other things, changing the organization's charter. The 15-members of the PLO's Executive Committee met in the town of Al Arish, near the abandoned Israeli City of Yamit. There are various topics on the agenda, but there is one that matters most to the Palestinians' immediate neighbors -- the Israelis.

Israel has been asking the PLO to amend a clause in its decades-old Charter that calls for Israel's Destruction. PLO leader Yasir Arafat promised last September he would change the Charter within two months after the Palestinians convene their legislative council.

Members of the Council were elected last month, but Arafat now says he does not have the authority to change the Charter. Instead he promised to bring up the issue in yesterday's executive meeting

The Executive Committee met to prepare for an upcoming session of the Palestinians' parliament in-exile, or the Palestine National Council. It is that council which has the authority to change the PLO's Charter.

What remains to be seen is when the Palestinian parliament will hold its session. The body's Acting President Salim al-Zanoun said last week he prefers to see the meeting held after April -- to see if Israel completes its withdrawal from the West Bank.

Under a peace treaty signed by the PLO and Israel last September, Israel is scheduled to finish withdrawing its troops from the West Bank city of Hebron by the end of March.

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