A move is under way in Israel's Labor Party to gain government acceptance of a plan to unilaterally impose autonomy in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip as an interim step in the Israeli-Jordanian peace initiative.
Led by Economic Planning Minister Gad Yaakobi and supported by other central party figures, including Abba Eban, chairman of the parliamentary Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, the campaign is aimed at announcing plans in May or June to impose autonomy by the end of the year and withdraw Israeli troops from densely populated and nonstrategic areas.
The plan faces strong opposition from the Likud bloc of the coalition government and from some segments of the Labor Party. It also has been opposed by most Palestinian leaders in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, who say they first want to negotiate territorial arrangements.
But Yaakobi, in an interview last week, said he will press the issue this week at a meeting of the 100-member Labor Party Political Committee and again in April at the party's national convention. He said he believes he has the support of about one-third of the committee.
Prime Minister Shimon Peres, the party leader, has not publicly expressed his view on unilateral autonomy, but party sources noted that when the issue was raised during the 1981 election campaign, he expressed approval.
Yaakobi estimated that if Peres decisively backs the proposal and Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin drops his opposition to it, advocates of unilateral autonomy could win a narrow majority of 13 votes in the 25-member coalition Cabinet. But he conceded that there could be a bitter ideological struggle that would break up the coalition.
[Peres was in London Saturday, ending an official visit, and was to go to Bonn Sunday.]
Sources close to Peres said he is reluctant to publicly declare support now for fear it will be interpreted by Jordan's King Hussein as a form of pressure at a delicate stage of efforts to arrange peace talks between Israel and a joint Jordanian-Palestinian delegation.
But Peres, in two recent interviews, expressed favor for the concept of an interim arrangement for the West Bank and the Gaza Strip while negotiations for a comprehensive peace are under way. He said autonomy could be Israel's opening offer in negotiations.
Under Yaakobi's proposal, if efforts to start peace negotiations with Jordan in an international forum are still stalemated by May or June, Israel would announce plans to impose autonomy by the end of December.
The autonomous areas would not include the strategic Jordan Valley, metropolitan Jerusalem, the Gush Etzion settlements south of Bethlehem and others in the area, or the vulnerable Jewish settlements in the southern Gaza Strip.
Like the autonomy envisioned by the Camp David accords, the Labor Party plan would grant Palestinians control over the administration of justice, agriculture, finance and taxation, civil service, education, health, public works, municipal affairs, social welfare and other services. Local Arab police would be responsible for internal law and order, and Israeli security forces would become involved only if there was a danger to Jewish settlements or to Israel.
Israel would declare that the autonomy is an interim arrangement that excludes no political option except annexation of the territories by Israel, Yaakobi said.
"It keeps open all other options, including a treaty with Jordan based on territorial compromise," or a Palestinian entity confederated with Jordan, he said.
Yaakov said the announcement "could motivate the whole peace process, but even if it doesn't, it will reduce our involvement in the territories and the friction that comes from being involved in matters that are not ours. It could also improve the atmosphere for reaching a permanent political settlement.