Israeli Cabinet Endorses Plan Giving PLO Formal Recognition

Israel’s Cabinet has given its formal approval to an agreement that could end 30 years of bloodshed between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization.

The Cabinet on Sunday endorsed Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s decision Friday to extend formal Israeli recognition to the PLO as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.

Hours after the vote, Rabin departed for Washington, where he and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres were to take part Monday in a ceremony to sign a landmark agreement granting limited governing authority to Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and West Bank town of Jericho.

Before leaving, the prime minister reiterated his opposition to the establishment of a Palestinian state and vowed that Jerusalem would remain the undivided Jewish capital “forever.”

Rabin and Peres will be joined at the White House ceremony by PLO leader Yasir Arafat, who arrived in Washington on Sunday from PLO headquarters in Tunis. It was the first time the pistol-toting PLO leader was allowed to enter the United States since 1974, when he addressed the United Nations in a now-infamous speech.

Rabin and Arafat were expected to witness, but not sign, the agreement on self-rule in Gaza and Jericho.

The signing of the agreement comes on the heels of a somber and understated ceremony held here on Friday at which Rabin, with the stroke of a pen, signed into reality Israel’s formal recognition of the PLO.

Against a stark backdrop in the Prime Minister’s Office, Rabin was flanked by Peres on one side and Norwegian Foreign Minister Johan Jorgen Holst on the other, facing scores of reporters.

Norway had been host to a series of secret talks between Israeli and PLO officials that resulted in the agreement for Palestinian self-rule.

NIGHT OF WAITING ENDS WITH COFFEE

The ceremony took place after Holst delivered to Rabin on Thursday night a letter signed by Arafat containing the PLO’s recognition of Israel as well as commitments to renounce terrorism and contain violence by its various factions.

The mutual recognition pact was the product of weeks of negotiations that became bogged down during a final stint in the Bristol Hotel in Paris.

The key sticking points were the PLO’s reluctance to declare as invalid articles of the Palestine National Covenant that, among other things, called for Israel’s destruction.

The PLO had also been reluctant to call on the Palestinians of the administered territories to desist from their intifada.

But the sticking points were finally resolved, and Holst set out from Paris to Tunis to obtain the PLO chairman’s signature.

It was 5 a.m. Thursday in Jerusalem when Rabin and Peres — who were wrapping up a long day and night with scalding coffee at the prime minister’s Jerusalem residence — learned that the recognition pact had been finalized.

Their close aides could not remember a moment of greater harmony, even amity, between these two longtime Labor Party rivals.

The two men knew that they had cast their present and their future on this one throw of the diplomatic dice, and that they would rise or fall together — and, ironically, together with Arafat.

With a minimum of flourish Friday, Rabin signed the letter granting recognition to the PLO.

Noting that the ceremony “starts a new era,” the prime minister said he hoped it would “bring to an end 100 years of bloodshed and misery between the Palestinians and Jews.”

Peres told reporters that the recognition accord marked the start of “a new experiment.”

“We wish, from the depths of our heart, to the Palestinian people, a different future,” the foreign minister said. “We do not hate people, and we do not hate persons.

“What we are trying seriously,” he said, “is to get rid of a poisonous past and — to use a biblical wish — to return to a land of milk and honey.”

AN ELABORATE SEND-OFF

Holst of Norway briefly expressed his appreciation for having had “a chance to play a small role in this very important endeavor to bring peace to the embattled area of the Middle East.”

There was also pomp and ceremony Sunday night, as Rabin and Peres departed for Washington Cabinet ministers, the Israel Defense Force chief of staff, and both Jewish and Arab backers of the peace accord showed up at Ben-Gurion Airport for the official send-off.

Trumpets erupted with fanfares as Rabin, himself a former army chief of staff, strolled down a red carpet to board an Israeli air force plane that would take him to meet his onetime enemy, Arafat, in Washington.

The White House event Monday was expected to be heavy with symbolism, with the key players to be seated around the same table used during the signing of the Camp David accords.

U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher was reported to have said the agreement would be signed at the ministerial level and not by Rabin and Arafat.

But Christopher said that the presence of Rabin and Arafat at the ceremony would have a great symbolic value.

Meanwhile, expressions of support for the peace plan and opposition to it continued to sound throughout Israel.

While the Cabinet met to approve the PLO recognition accord, several hundred members of the Na’amat women’s organization, which supports the peace agreement, rallied outside the Prime Minister’s Office.

But Benjamin Netanyahu, leader of the opposition Likud party, continued sounding the alarm over the plan, warning it was a prelude to a Palestinian state.

Netanyahu predicted Israel would see “a PLO state” emerging on its “doorstep in alliance with our worst enemies and able to reach the sea at a distance of 10 miles. That,” he said, “is a strategic threat to the life of Israel.”

NEXT STORY