Meeting with Rabin on Elections, Arafat Condemns Terrorist Attacks

In the wake of a stabbing of an Israeli youth by an extremist Palestinian, Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat has condemned all acts of terrorism committed by opponents of the Israeli-Palestinian peace accord.

The stabbing on Sunday occurred shortly before a meeting between Arafat and Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin at the Erez border crossing between the Gaza Strip and Israel.

In the attack, Ya’acov Fischer, a 17-year-old resident of the Neveh Dekalim settlement in southern Gaza, suffered multiple stab wounds in the neck and stomach. He was later reported to be in moderate condition.

The terrorist, identified as Mustafa el-Kaled, 18, of Khan Yunis, a nearby Gaza village, was shot dead by a guard to the settlement who spotted the attack. A leaflet found in his pocket was signed by the Islamic fundamentalist Hamas, which said the attack was a warning to Arafat not to go ahead with the autonomy program in cooperation with Israel.

But Israel and the PLO proceeded undeterred. In their first meeting in six weeks, Rabin and Arafat discussed a date for Palestinian elections in the West Bank and Gaza. Observers later said it was their most cordial meeting ever.

NEGOTIATIONS TO RESUME NEXT WEEK IN CAIRO

The two leaders agreed that Israel-PLO negotiations would resume in Cairo at the beginning of next month and would focus on plans for the elections, as well as on other unresolved issues in the current phase of the peace process, including the stationing of Palestinian personnel at the border crossing points, and the release of more Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails.

The Palestinian leadership has been pressing for early elections for a governing council. Under the terms of the Declaration of Principles signed last year in Washington, the elections are to take place after Israel withdraws its troops from Arab population centers in the West Bank.

Israel, in turn, has been concerned about security issues in the autonomous areas of Gaza and the Jericho enclave in the West Bank.

Israeli officials also blame the delay in elections on Palestinian demands that the elected body be considered a legislature. Israel maintains that a legislature is an attribute of sovereignty, and that the Declaration of Principles provided only for the election of an executive body.

Rabin told reporters after the meeting that he had “not gone into details” with Arafat over the size and nature of the governing council to be elected in the upcoming Palestinian vote.

“We have to know what will be elected, and what will be the spheres of responsibility of the elected body,” the prime minister said.

Rabin and Arafat spent an hour alone at their meeting, which was seen as especially significant, since their meetings in the past have been conducted in a frosty and sometimes outright hostile atmosphere.

Rabin and Arafat said they will meet again in a month’s time.

Contributing to the unusually relaxed atmosphere at their meeting, Arafat gave Rabin an ancient Torah scroll from Yemen.

Arafat also scored points with Israeli public opinion by lashing out at the stabbing attack that occurred earlier in the day.

“I consider this a terrorist act, and we cannot stand unmoved,” Arafat said during a joint news conference with Rabin.

“This is an aggression and a challenge not only to the Israeli side but also to the Palestinian side, and we will take all measures to prevent its recurrence,” he added.

Fischer had lived in Neveh Dekalim with his family for only six weeks before the stabbing incident took place.

At the time of the attack, Fischer had been standing near the entrance to the settlement to catch a ride to Beersheba.

He later said from his bed at Beersheba Hospital that he had seen a Palestinian riding a bicycle toward him, but that he had paid no special attention to him.

“But when he came alongside me, he pulled out a knife and slashed at me, cutting my neck and stomach,” Fischer said.

The strong language used by Arafat, observers agreed, was intended to allay Rabin’s concerns that Palestinian authorities were lax when it came to dealing with violence against Israelis.

Sparked by these same concerns, several hundred residents of Neveh Dekalim and other Jewish settlements in the Gaza area went to the Erez meeting place to urge Rabin not to continue what they said were “useless talks” with Arafat while the Palestinian Authority did nothing to halt terrorist attacks against Jewish residents in Gaza.

(JTA correspondent Hugh Orgel in Tel Aviv contributed to this report.)

NEXT STORY