The Middle East peace process is making unprecedented progress, said an Israeli official at a press conference for local university media yesterday.
"[Arabs and Israelis] are now in a different phase, somewhere between confrontation and accommodation," said Yaakov Levy, consul general of Israel to New England. "The trend [towards a peaceful solution] is irreversible," he said.
Levy's remarks were timed to coincide with Wednesday's start of the seventh round of the Middle East peace talks in Washington, D.C.
Representatives of Israel, Syria, Lebanon and a joint Jordanian-Palestinian delegation are in attendance.
The fact that conference delegates from both sides are now concentrating on issues rather than format--as they did during the first round of the talks, in Madrid--is "a major shift onto new tracks," Levy said.
"It was a de-demonization process." the Israeli consul said. "It was a psychological safety net that is no longer needed. At this stage, we are on a more concrete level."
Levy detailed Israel's proposal for an interim Palestinian government in some regions currently under Israeli rule. The plan includes open elections for a semi-autonomous governing body, he said.
According to the Israeli proposal, the interim government would exist for three years before talks would resume to determine a definitive status for a Palestinian state, Levy said.
Limits to the authority of the interim council would be determined through negotiations, he added.
But, the Israeli official said, the eventual government would not be entirely independent, according to the current Israeli proposal. "We do not envisage another 21st Arab state at the end of this process," he said.
And, while he remained optimistic about prospects for peace, Levy cautioned that regional tensions are so politically and culturally entrenched that it is unlikely even the Washington talks will have an immediate effect on reducing friction.
"We are not expecting a major breakthrough this round," he said.
Instead, the Israeli official suggested, nations involved in the conference could emerge with a joint statement about their discussions. Even that modest amount of collaboration would be unprecedented, he said.