JERUSALEM (Sep. 1)
While negotiators meet in Washington for what are now being perceived as merely formal sessions, substantive progress reportedly is being made in Oslo, Norway, toward a mutual recognition pact between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization.
There, far from the glare of media spotlights, Uri Savir, director-general of Israel’s Foreign Ministry, reportedly has been working with PLO officials on the language of a declaration, which some say could be announced shortly.
As a precondition for its recognition of the PLO, Israel is demanding that it amend its 1964 Palestine National Covenant, deleting passages calling for the destruction of Israel, explicitly recognizing Israel’s right to exist and renouncing terrorism.
But the PLO counters that such a formal move would delay the process, since changing the covenant would require a meeting of the Palestine National Council, the organization’s so-called parliament-in-exile.
PLO Chairman Yasir Arafat, who is far from certain he could win the backing for such a move from hard-line PLO factions, is hoping to persuade the Israelis that declarations made by the council in 1988 and 1991 “supercede” the articles in the covenant that the-Israelis want deleted.
The 1988 declaration affirmed Israel’s right to exist and renounced terrorism; the 1991 declaration affirmed the need to begin a process of peace talks with Israel.
Officials at the Oslo talks are reportedly encountering difficulties in finding a mutually agreeable text for their declaration. All the same, PLO officials remain optimistic in their appraisal that a declaration is near.
PLO official Hakim Balawi told Israel’s army radio on Wednesday that a declaration would take place “within 24 hours” and that Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Arafat would meet within “the next few weeks.”
The meeting between the two leaders, said Balawi, would take place after the protocols of the mutual recognition are signed.
EGYPTIAN FOREIGN MINISTER VISITS
While that prediction seemed a bit optimistic, analysts here were not ruling out anything, given the monumental advances of the past week.
But Foreign Minister Shimon Peres drew a distinction Wednesday between the self-rule agreement approved by the Cabinet this week and any mutual recognition pact with the PLO. He said the relevant “Palestinian organizations” should sign the self-rule accord and then take the appropriate steps to disengage themselves from terrorism.
Meanwhile, Egyptian Foreign Minister Amre Moussa met here Wednesday with Rabin and Peres, and applauded the rapid progress made in the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
Moussa reiterated Egypt’s support for the Israeli-Palestinian accord on limited self-rule in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank city of Jericho.
But he stressed that the parties should try to achieve a “comprehensive peace” in the region that includes Syria, Lebanon and Jordan.
The Palestinians, for their part, were working hard at rallying support for the accord.
Arafat has been touring the Arab world this week, trying to get the backing of Arab leaders in Egypt, Yemen and Sudan for the self-rule agreement with Israel.
But Palestinians opposed to the accord are determined to do everything possible to prevent its implementation.
Two representatives of the militant Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Riad al-Malki and Ali Jada, declared their total opposition to the agreement at a news conference Tuesday.
Malki said his organization would resist the autonomy plan just as it had resisted Israel’s administration of the territories, saying they were “two sides of the same coin.”
Well-aware of the growing pressures from Palestinian rejectionists, Palestinian leaders are making statements designed to keep them at bay.
In the Sudanese capital of Khartoum, Arafat said the Palestinians would never “give up an inch of Jerusalem.”
And Yasir Abed Rabbo, who heads the PLO’s information department, declared that under the agreement, some 800,000 refugees who had fled the territories following the Six-Day War in 1967 would be allowed to return to their homes.