A final agreement for implementing the Palestinian self-rule accord in the Gaza Strip and West Bank town of Jericho may well be concluded by the end of the week, according to Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres.
Speaking on Sunday with reporters at Ben-Gurion Airport as Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin took off for a four-day trip to Russia, Peres said it was “possible but by no means certain” that an agreement could be arrived at in Cairo by the close of this week’s talks.
But at the weekly Cabinet meeting held in Jerusalem shortly afterward, Peres warned that any further delays in reaching a final agreement could lead to an unraveling of the entire peace process.
“If we don’t finish it all within the next 10 days, the whole process may come to nothing,” Peres was reported to have told his colleagues.
Police Minister Shahal later explained to reporters that the foreign minister “was describing the mood of the Palestinians, the problems they are facing, because of the erosion (of popular support) caused by the prolonged talks.”
Peres had returned to Israel on Saturday night after holding five meetings with Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat in Bucharest, Romania.
He told reporters that he and Arafat had resolved several of the issues holding up the signing of a final agreement in Cairo.
But he added that a number of issues – including the jurisdiction of Palestinian courts, passports, currency and telephones – still remained to be resolved.
Peres and Arafat were expected to meet again soon in Cairo in an effort to clear up those issues, but no decision on when they would meet was expected until Rabin returns from Moscow later this week.
The first Israeli prime minister ever to visit Russia, Rabin set off for Moscow at a time when the Russians are seeking to play a more active role in the peace process.
Prior to leaving for Moscow, Rabin discussed the ongoing negotiations with the Palestinians during a meeting held at the airport with Peres, Deputy Foreign Minister Yossi Beilin, Israel Defense Force Chief of Staff Ehud Barak and the leader of the Israeli delegation to the Cairo peace talks, Gen. Amnon Shahak.
In Paris, meanwhile, Finance Minister Avraham Shohat was more optimistic than he had been last week about the progress of meetings being held in the French capital to discus economic aspects of the Palestinian self-rule accord.
The list of disagreements is fast diminishing, said Shohat, who heads the Israeli delegation to those talks. Last week, Shohat said that Palestinian demands to trade with companies that engage in dumping practices – selling their goods at lower than usual prices – could bring the Paris negotiations to a standstill.