JERUSALEM (Dec. 13)
An air of disappointment and dashed hopes filled the administered territories following the decision by Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat to postpone the implementation of the self-rule accord by 10 days.
Rabin’s meeting with Arafat in Cairo ended Sunday without agreement on who will control the border crossings between the Gaza Strip and Egypt and between the West Bank town of Jericho and Jordan.
Also unresolved was the size of the autonomous Jericho district that will come under Palestinian self-rule and the number of Israeli forces that will provide security for settlers in the territories.
In Jericho, where self-rule was originally scheduled to begin Dec. 13, a partial strike was observed Monday to protest the 10-day postponement.
Outside Jericho’s PLO office, a sign read, “This office is closed because Israel does not want peace.”
“We have to have many changes on the ground, especially on such a day when all the world is looking to Jericho,” Abdel Karim, the head of the office, told Israel Radio. But “what is different?”
About 40 Palestinian police, trained to be Arafat’s bodyguards, crossed the Allenby Bridge and went to eastern Jerusalem on Monday, but there was little other evidence of a new era.
At a special session on Monday, Rabin told his Cabinet that he hoped the next 10 days would close the gaps separating the Israeli and Palestinian positions.
He did not rule out some unilateral moves to demonstrate Israel’s commitment to the accord, but he would not say if they would include prisoner releases, as had been previously reported.
But Rabin told the Cabinet that Israel would not give the Palestinians control over the border crossings because that would compromise Israel’s security and because such control is a part of Israel’s sovereign rights.
He also called Palestinian demands for the land around Jericho “unacceptable.”
PLO negotiators have been demanding that the autonomous Jericho district comprise an area of some 133 square miles. The Israelis are offering an area of about 18 square miles.
Cabinet ministers rejected the notion that the negotiating process is in a crisis and is likely to break down.
“I don’t think this is going to happen,” said Health Minister Haim Ramon.
“There is no alternative to Israel and the PLO but to implement this agreement,” he said.
Environment Minister Yossi Sarid, of the left-wing Meretz Party, said he detected no differences among Cabinet members about the line Rabin is pursuing with the PLO.
Indeed, his Meretz colleague, Cultural Minister Shulamit Aloni, defended Rabin’s positions.
She said Arafat’s insistence on controlling border crossings relates to sovereignty, which is a matter of permanent status, according to the declaration of principles that forms the basis of the self-rule accord.
Issues relating to the permanent status of the nascent Palestinian entity, said Aloni, were not on the agenda now.
Arafat mistakenly believes he is already the president of Palestine, Aloni said.
Dr. Ahmed Tibi, an Israeli Arab who is Arafat’s political adviser, observed that Israel and the PLO are poles apart in their negotiating positions. He said more personal contact and pressure by an intermediary may be needed to bring the parties to an agreement.
Likud Leader Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday called for the government to rescind the Israel-PLO accord because the PLO hasn’t honored its commitments.
DAILY VIOLENCE CONTINUES
“I’m not impressed by momentary delays,” said Netanyahu. “The record of this government has been to give in consistently to all PLO demands and I’m afraid that’s unlikely to change.”
Right-wing Knesset members staged a sit-down protest outside the prime minister’s office. Some expressed satisfaction over Rabin’s tough stand with Arafat, which they claimed was partly a result of their influence.
Violence, a staple of the daily landscape lately, continued to undermine the negotiators’ attempts to establish peace in the region.
A suicide-bomber driving a stolen ambulance was killed Monday after he tried to attack an Israeli army patrol in Gaza. Reserve soldiers shot the driver after he ignored calls to stop.
The militant Islamic Jihad movement took responsibility for the attack.
The same day, in the Rafah refugee camp in Gaza, Israeli soldiers opened fire during a demonstration, killing two Palestinians and wounding several others.
One of the Palestinians killed during the demonstration was a wanted activist with the militant, Damascus-based Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. The other was a member of Islamic Jihad.