Following marathon negotiations in Switzerland, Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization have apparently made headway in resolving their differences.
PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat, who met with Foreign Minister Shimon Peres in the Swiss ski resort of Davos for eight hours Saturday night, was upbeat in his comments at a news conference after their talks, saying an agreement for implementing the Palestinian self-rule accord was “very near.”
But Peres, who entered Sunday’s news conference holding hands with Arafat, would not describe the status of the talks. Instead, he spoke of the enormous challenges facing the two sides and of the promise for world peace that an Israeli-PLO agreement would represent.
Sitting beside Arafat, Peres thanked the PLO leader “for his supreme effort to bring our two peoples together in the domain of peace and hope.”
Peres said that if the two sides could reach a peaceful settlement of their differences, it would provide hope “that the world can solve all of its biggest problems.”
Peres and Arafat got together during a would economic conference held at Davos through the weekend.
The results of these latest talks were more promising than those last week in Cairo, when the Israelis and PLO were unable to iron out their differences over implementation of the accord that was signed in Washington last September.
The Cairo negotiations resulted in a stalemate over several security issues, including who would control border crossings between the Gaza Strip and Egypt, and between the West Bank town of Jericho and Jordan.
Arafat told reporters in Davos that the two sides were “on the way to bypassing all the obstacles which have been placed in the last weeks, to have very soon, very soon, the final agreement to start directly the implementation of the peace agreements.”
Neither side provided details of any agreements they reached, but Palestinian officials said a written agreement had been completed and was awaiting approval.
According to Israeli radio, both sides made compromises, especially the Palestinians, who reportedly made concessions to Israel on the border-crossings issue.
Another issue over which the two sides have been deadlocked – the size of the Jericho area that will fall under Palestinian authority – reportedly remains unresolved.
Prime Minister Yitzhak reacted cautiously Sunday to Arafat’s upbeat comments.
During brief remarks to reporters in Tel Aviv, Rabin noted that past optimism about the course of the negotiations had sometimes proved premature.
Rabin added that oral understandings reached in recent talks often fell into dispute once an effort was made to commit them to writing.
Rabin said he preferred waiting for a complete written agreement before he would provide any definitive comments.
But Egyptian Foreign Minister Amre Moussa, whose country has served as a mediator in the stalled Israeli-PLO negotiations, was as upbeat as Arafat in his assessment of the Davos talks.
The two sides had made “definite progress toward agreement,” he said.
Moussa also indicated that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak had invited Israel and the PLO to come to Cairo for the signing of the implementation agreement.
Moussa said the signing would take place within two weeks.