Unofficial Palestinian-Israeli talks involving an Advisor of the Palestinian President Yasser Arafat and Likud Knesset Members took place in the Dead Sea area on Saturday.

The Israeli Palestinian Center for Research and Information (IPCRI) arranged a meeting in the Dead Sea area on Saturday between Palestinian and Israeli officials to discuss the implementation of the disengagement plan.

Even though the participants were all accorded official status, none of them was there in an official capacity.

Israeli participants were Knesset Members from Likud and Shinui parties, Michael Ratson, Michael Itan, and Mujali Wahbe from Likud; Ilan Libovivitch and Eite Livini from Shinui.

Mamdouh Nofel, an advisor to Palestinian President Yasser Arafat together with Ghiath Aumari, Riad Malki, and Elias Zananiri joined the meeting.

Participants agreed that the disengagement plan is one step towards changing the existing political environment, and also called for a general cease-fire and for further confidence-building meetings.

At the end of the meeting, MK Livini expressed optimism, saying that the resumption of negotiations was crucial to the implementation of the disengagement plan.

MK Eitan praised the value of dialogue, saying that it was apparent that there are members of the Palestinian leadership who stand against terror and with whom discussions were possible.

The Dead Sea meeting represents a step back to unofficial-track diplomatic efforts, which characterized Israeli-Palestinian dialogue prior to signing the Oslo accords.

Having Likud Knesset Members and an Advisor to Arafat sitting in one room and discussing ways of implementing disengagement is seen as a significant step towards more active and official talks between both sides.

While such a meeting is expected to create an uproar inside the Likud and among Palestinian hardliners, it could present a starting point on the road to resuming talks at various levels.

To implement disengagement, Israel needs a Palestinian partner and to move out of political isolation, Arafat needs to get involved in political talks.

It is unlikely that Arafat’s Advisor would have joined the meeting against the will of the besieged Palestinian President.