Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat this week agreed to extend Palestinian authority throughout the West Bank in four key areas of civilian affairs.
After conferring for two hours at the Erez crossing between the Gaza Strip and Israel on Tuesday, the two leaders agreed to give Palestinians in the West Bank control over welfare and tourism by Nov. 15. Responsibilities for health and taxation would be transferred by the end of November.
The Palestinians assumed control over education, the fifth area of the so- called “early empowerment” in the West Bank, at the start of the school year in September.
The meeting at Erez took place amid growing concern over Arafat’s stature among Palestinian, particularly in the wake of Israel’s demands that the Palestinian Authority crack down on Islamic militants who carry out attacks against Israelis.
Before the meeting, senior Israeli officials reportedly advised Rabin to make concessions to Arafat, who has been criticized by growing numbers of Palestinians for making what they say are too many concessions to Israel with little in return to show for it.
“There is no doubt that his situation is not easy, and more and more problems are being heaped upon him,” Environment Minister Yossi Sarid, who participated in the talks, told army radio.
The extension of early empowerment had been delayed because of a lace of promised funding from foreign donor nations. Rabin said at a joint news conference with Arafat that the promised funds would be available by the end of the month.
Rabin and Arafat also agreed to resume negotiations for further implementation of the Palestinian self-rule accord in two weeks.
Topping the negotiating agenda will be the twin issues of Palestinian elections and the concurrent withdrawal of Israeli troops from Arab population centers in the West Bank.
The two sides also agreed to further ease the closure that had been imposed on Gaza and West Bank after an Oct. 19 bus bombing in Tel Aviv that killed 23 people.
In response to Palestinian pressure, Israel agreed to issue work permits to an additional 10,000 Palestinian workers in construction and agriculture. Some 8,000 permits were issued last week following a partial lifting of the closure.
Rabin said at the news conference that the upcoming negotiations would touch on some difficult issues, especially security in the West Bank after an Israeli troop withdrawal.
“It will be complex negotiations in which Israel will have to ensure all elements of security,” Rabin said. “I can’t say how many months the negotiations will take.”
Arafat said he hoped the delays that have plagued implementation of the self- rule accord would be overcome.
“We hope in this atmosphere and in this attitude we will follow up accurately and honestly what we have agreed upon,” he said.
Neither Rabin nor Arafat would disclose whether they talked about cracking down on the Islamic fundamentalist Hamas movement, which claimed responsibility for a series of recent terror attacks on Israelis, including the Tel Aviv bus bombing.
But Arafat told reporters, “We will work against any element that is trying to stop the peace process.”
Arafat also said he supported the Oct. 26 Israeli-Jordanian peace treaty, adding the hope that agreements would soon be reached with Syria and Lebanon.
At the time of the treaty, Arafat had lashed out at the agreement, particularly for its recognition of Jordan’s historic role as guardian of the Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem.