With the accord known as the Cairo Document signed this week by Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat, prospects have brightened for starting the implementation of the Palestinian self-rule accord within the next few weeks.
Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin said Thursday that he hoped remaining negotiations for the accord could be completed within one month, now that the security aspects have been mostly resolved.
The Cairo document was further enforced by Israel Defense Force sources who said that the army will begin to withdraw from the Gaza Strip and West Bank town of Jericho within a month.
Implementation of the accord has been held up by disagreements over security issues, but these were largely resolved in the three-page Cairo Document and a separate eight-page agreement signed in the Egyptian capital Wednesday.
Under the terms of the self-rule accord signed in Washington last September, Israel was scheduled to complete withdrawal of its forces from Gaza and Jericho by April 13.
Rabin has repeatedly cautioned that the April date is “not holy.” But political sources here say the remaining negotiations should now proceed smoothly and quickly.
The negotiations, which will focus on some remaining security issues and on the transfer of authority in Gaza and Jericho to the Palestinians, were scheduled to resume next week in Paris and in the Sinai border town of Taba.
Israel Television reported Thursday that the IDF high command was “very pleased” with the Cairo accord and that IDF officials agreed that no important security concerns were compromised.
The television report followed recent rumors of disquiet within the army over the progress of the negotiations, particularly how they would affect Israeli security.
The agreement reached in Cairo provides for overall Israeli control of external security in the two self-governing areas.
The crossing points between Gaza and Egypt and between Jericho and Jordan will continue to be situated within IDF deployments.
But within the immigration terminals themselves, a major effort has been made to accommodate Palestinian sensibilities without forgoing Israel’s right to examine travelers and their belongings, and to bar them entry if security considerations require this.
The terminals will contain separate Israeli and Palestinian checkpoints.
The size of the Jericho area, another long-standing bone of contention, was set at around 21 square miles, but the two sides agreed that it will be reviewed by Arafat and Rabin when they meet to finalize the agreement.
Rabin, in interviews Thursday, hinted broadly that he will be prepared to expand the size of the Jericho area, provided other issues are satisfactorily concluded.
The Cairo agreement gives the Palestinians access to Muslim holy places around the Jericho area and also calls for joint Israeli-Palestinian tourism projects on the northern shore of the Dead Sea.
In Jericho, joint patrols on main roads will be led by a Palestinian vehicle. And in the Gaza Strip, where about 12,000 Jewish settlers live in three enclaves among some 850,000 Palestinians, key roads will be jointly patrolled, too – but with an IDF vehicle leading each patrol.
Rabin said these provisions would facilitate “reasonable” security for Israel.
He noted that even now, before any final agreement with the PLO, Israel did not have complete security.
“If we want to give peace a chance, we must solve our problems with the Palestinians,” a confident Rabin declared.
Members of the opposition were critical, and Likud leaders blasted the accord as a surrender to terrorism.
The leader of Tsomet, Knesset member Rafael Eitan, predicted the PLO would be in-capable of living up to its commitments. The former general also predicted a constant battle for control of the roads through Gaza and Jericho.
Many Palestinians criticized the agreement, saying the PLO had caved in to Israeli security concerns.
But PLO leaders say the agreement allows for some symbols of Palestinian authority and dignity, noting that armed Palestinian policemen and a Palestinian flag will be visible at the immigration points.
Arafat was also optimistic about the agreement.
“We are sure we can create a new era for our people,” he said. “We can say that Palestine and the name of Palestine have returned to the map of the Middle East.”