JERUSALEM (Aug. 31)
In a major advance for the peace process, Israel’s Cabinet has approved a tentative agreement that would establish limited Palestinian self-rule in the Gaza Strip and a small portion of the West Bank.
The vote approving the accord, which was hammered out in a series of secret meetings with officials of the Palestine Liberation Organization, came shortly after midnight Monday, culminating a special Cabinet session that stretched late into the night.
As the Cabinet deliberated, thousands of demonstrators blocked a road outside the Prime Minister’s Office and clashed with police trying to disperse them.
Throughout the day Monday, Cabinet ministers had stopped by the offices of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin to review the documents relevant to the proposal — and most of them expressed satisfaction with the draft agreement.
In the end, 16 ministers approved the plan and two abstained. There were no votes against.
The tentative agreement between Israel and the Palestinians reportedly was reached during a meeting in Norway between Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Mahmoud Abbas, a high-ranking PLO official. The Aug. 20 meeting was apparently held in the VIP lounge of Oslo’s international airport.
But lengthy secret negotiations on the agreement reportedly began earlier in the summer. Representing the Israelis at those sessions were Yoel Singer, a legal adviser with the Foreign Ministry, and Uri Savir, the ministry’s director-general. They were later joined by Shlomo Gur, assistant to Deputy Foreign Minister Yossi Beilin.
Beilin himself reportedly met several times with PLO officials in hotels where the multilateral talks on Middle East regional issues were held.
CHIEF NEGOTIATOR OFFERS TO QUIT
Cabinet Secretary Elyakim Rubinstein, head of the Israeli team negotiating with the Palestinians, tendered his resignation in protest over his failure to be informed of the secret talks with the PLO.
But Rabin asked him on Monday to avoid such a move until he had time to study the draft agreement. Rubinstein agreed to wait a few days, but he decided not to leave immediately for Washington, where the 11th round of bilateral talks was to open Tuesday.
For the time being, Eitan Bentsur, the Foreign Ministry’s deputy director-general, will stand in for Rubinstein at the talks.
The Israeli-Palestinian proposal includes a five-page declaration of principles, an eight-page agreement and supplements that deal with future cooperation between Israel and the Palestinians, particularly in the economic sphere.
The main points in the draft agreement are:
The Palestinians will be granted self-rule in the administered territories, which will be implemented first in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank city of Jericho.
Residents of both areas will be allowed to move freely between them, but there will not be an independent corridor linking the two sites.
Israel will retain its control over security and foreign affairs in the territories.
Palestinian self-rule will not extend to eastern Jerusalem or Israeli settlements in the territories. Nor will the Palestinians have any jurisdiction over Israeli citizens.
Under the terms of self-rule, Palestinian will have the power to impose local law and order by means of a local Palestinian police force.
Although the Israel Defense Force will withdraw from some parts of the territories, it will be able to move freely within both the Gaza Strip and Jericho.
SEVERAL UNRESOLVED ISSUES
Despite the apparent agreement on these points, there are still gaps between the Palestinian and Israeli versions of the draft agreement.
One issue still needing to be worked out is the issue of control over the strategically important Jordan River bridges located near Jericho.
According to Israel, the bridges will remain under Israel’s control. But the Palestinians are maintaining that they will be transferred to the control of the United Nations.
In another issue of possible contention, Israeli officials are maintaining that under the terms of the agreement, Israel will redeploy its forces in the administered territories to areas on the outskirts of Gaza and Jericho.
But Palestinian sources in Amman said that Israeli forces would conduct a total withdrawal from Gaza and Jericho within four months.
Now that the Cabinet has approved the plan, its job is to sell it to the Israeli public. An opinion poll conducted Sunday showed a narrow majority of Israelis support the Gaza-Jericho deal, with 53 percent in favor and 45 percent against.
While Israeli leaders were busy securing support among the people for the interim agreement, PLO leader Yasir Arafat went on a tour of several Arab countries to shore up their support for the accord. Arafat first stopped in Cairo and then went on to Yemen.
But the PLO leader’s biggest problems lie with Jordan, which has complained of being left out of the negotiating process. Arafat was in Jordan last week, where he reportedly was given a cold reception by King Hussein.