PARIS (Jul. 6)
Meeting for the first time since they signed the Cairo agreement for implementing Palestinian self-rule in early May, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat held discussion here this week regarding the next phase of Palestinian autonomy.
“We are committed to the major steps on which we decided and to make all efforts to bring an end to the hundred-year conflict of Palestinians, the Jewish community and Israel,” Rabin, with Peres standing at his side, told a news conference after meeting with Arafat on Wednesday.
The three were in Paris to receive a peace prize from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. Arafat arrived directly from his historic visit this week to the newly autonomous regions of the Gaza Strip and West Bank town of Jericho.
During their meeting, they agreed to form three committees that would deal with separate aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian peace initiative.
The first committee will discuss issues left unresolved in the implementation of self-rule in Gaza and Jericho. The size of the Jericho area and the release of Palestinians still held in Israeli jails will be among some of the topics discussed.
The second committee will focus on issues of so-called “early empowerment,” the transfer to Palestinian authority throughout the West Bank of such civil affairs as taxation, health, education, agriculture and tourism.
ARAFAT PLEDGES FREE ELECTIONS
The third committee will discuss the issue of refugees displaced as a result of the 1967 Six-Day War. Jordanian and Egyptian officials will join the Israelis and Palestinians for these discussions.
At a news conference held separately from that at which Rabin spoke, Arafat repeated his pledge to hold “free, honest and democratic elections as quickly as possible” in the territories.
Arafat did not give a precise date for the elections, which were called for under the terms of the declaration of principles signed last September in Washington. But PLO officials have recently said the elections for a Palestinian governing authority would be held in October.
But in an interview published Wednesday in the Israeli daily Ha’aretz, Rabin said the Palestinians may not be ready to hold elections at that time unless local municipal elections are held beforehand.
Rabin, Peres and Arafat arrived in Paris to accept UNESCO’s Felix Houphouet-Boigny Peace Prize for the self-rule accord signed on the White House lawn last September. The prize is named in honor of the late president of the Ivory Coast.
In his speech at the UNESCO ceremony, Rabin said, “We are going along slowly and cautiously, one step at a time, because the enemies of peace are even more numerous than we imagined.
“Extremists on both sides are lying in wait for us, and we — Israelis and Palestinians alike — must not fail,” Rabin said.
At his news conference, Yasir Arafat praised both parties for their “positive” and “constructive” meeting.
Following the UNESCO award ceremony, Rabin and Peres met with French President Francois Mitterrand.
Arafat met with the French president separately and reportedly asked for France’s help in securing funds pledged by Western donor countries to support the fledgling Palestinian autonomy.
Arafat told the ### gathering that Palestinian officals had so far received only $250 million in promised aid.
“If the Palestinian economy doesn’t pick up and isn’t helped to do so the whole peace process will disintegrate,” Arafat warned.
In the Ha’aretz interview, Rabin said the newly established Palestinian governing authority should start collecting taxes to help cover expenses for basic services.
“If Arafat doesn’t start collecting taxes, I don’t know where he’ll have money to finance the police or development programs,” said Rabin.