Rabin and Arafat Do Business at Their First Private Meeting

Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s meeting in Cairo on Wednesday with Yasser Arafat reflects a new realization on Israel’s part: If it wants to achieve real progress with the Palestinians, it must deal directly with the Palestine Liberation Organization chairman himself.

In contrast to the Cairo meeting, Israeli negotiators have found that all other venues in their talks with the Palestinians were much too complicated, much too slow — and often fruitless.

But on Wednesday, Arafat proved, contrary to certain fears in Israel, that he could get down to business.

He agreed to almost all of the suggestions presented by Rabin, particularly the timetable and the locations for the talks scheduled to begin next week on implementing the Palestinian self-rule accord signed in Washington last month.

In Washington, meanwhile, Secretary of State Warren Christopher met Wednesday with Farouk Kaddoumi, a member of the PLO executive committee.

Kaddoumi, a top political adviser to Arafat who at one point had opposed the Israeli-PLO accord, expressed support for it during Wednesday’s meeting the State Department said.

Department spokesman Mike McCurry said Christopher “found encouraging Mr. Kaddoumi’s reaffirmation of the importance of implementing the declaration and Mr. Kaddoumi’s support for the declaration itself.”

It was believed to be the first meeting between U.S. officials and the PLO since Christopher met last month with Arafat following the Sept. 13 signing ceremony on the White House lawn.

‘IT’S NOT ENOUGH TO SIGN’

Wednesday’s meeting in Cairo was initiated by Rabin, as sources at PLO headquarters in Tunis had maintained earlier this week.

The Israeli prime minister is no fan of Arafat’s. That was evident by the uneasy expression on Rabin’s face as he sat on a couch at the Ittihadiya Castle in Cairo, with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak seated between him and the PLO leader.

But despite this personal distaste for a man whose very name was long synonymous with terrorism, Rabin knew all too well that there was no choice but to talk directly to Arafat.

Rabin later described the meeting as a positive one that had begun the process of implementing the self-rule accord. He spoke at one news conference while Arafat held a separate meeting with reporters.

“We are committed to whatever we sign,” said Rabin. “But it’s not enough to sign — you have to translate it through negotiations into reality.”

Rabin said he had indicated to Arafat that everything could be negotiated, as long as it remained within the framework of the self-rule accord.

The most important outcome of the meeting was the decision to begin negotiations to implement the accord next Wednesday.

A special liaison committee will meet in Cairo, while a committee discussing the implementation of the transfer of power in the Gaza Strip and West Bank town of Jericho will meet in the Sinai border town of Taba.

After delays by the PLO in appointing those who would negotiate at the implementation talks, some names have finally been put forward.

SECURITY ISSUES DISCUSSED

The PLO’s delegate to the liaison committee was expected to be Mahmoud Abbas, better known as Abu Mazen, the man who played a key behind-the-scenes role in the secret negotiations held earlier this year in Norway that led to the self-rule agreement.

Abu Alaa, the head of the PLO’s economic department, who actually conducted the secret negotiations, was slated to head a committee dealing with economic issues.

A committee dealing with military issues will be headed by Lt. Nasser Yussuf, a senior officer of Arafat’s Al Fatah wing of the PLO.

Foreign Minister Shimon Peres is likely to head the Israeli delegation to the liaison body.

During the Cairo meeting, Rabin and Arafat also discussed security issues, including Israel’s continued policy of hunting wanted terrorists in the administered territories.

At his own news conference, Arafat described the meeting as having taken place in a positive atmosphere.

He announced that he would be going to Gaza and Jericho at the beginning of the year.

Both Rabin and Arafat stressed their determination to maintain the momentum of the peace process.

Arafat, for example, avoided any reference to the Israeli policy of pursuing wanted terrorists — the subject of two letters of protest he dispatched to the Israeli government over the past week.

But the PLO leader did touch on one controversial issue when he said he had named Faisal Husseini, the senior Palestinian negotiator in the talks with Israel in Washington, as chairman of a committee that would deal with Jerusalem.

In reaction, Health Minister Haim Ramon of the Labor Party reiterated Wednesday that Jerusalem is not on the agenda of the current discussions.

(Contributing to this report was JTA correspondent Deborah Kalb in Washington.)

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